Viking Night: A Boy and His Dog
By Bruce Hall
December 14, 2009
There are many reasons that certain films achieve what we call "cult" status, but one of them is that they tend to deliver their message in subversive or controversial ways that don't appeal to everyone. While it's true that most people do not like to work for their entertainment, is it possible that even the most unusual films can have something to offer everyone? When I was in college, a group of friends and I would meet regularly to ponder this very question. Beginning with Erik the Viking, we gathered once a week to watch and discuss a different cult classic, but we decided to keep the Viking theme. Now, I'll be working without a turkey leg or a goblet of mead, but with each installment of Viking Night I still seek to examine the same question: Can a film with such limited appeal still speak to us all?
Apparently, the world is going to end in 2012. This isn't because ancient Mayans say so, or even because Roland Emmerich and John Cusack say so. It's because Alien Girl says so. My association with Alien Girl came about innocently enough; we met though a mutual friend. She was single, I was single – it just seemed logical. Everything began fine, but it wasn't long until I discovered that Alien Girl is what one might charitably call an "Apocalypse Enthusiast". By this I mean someone who spends the majority of their free time concerned with the possibility that aliens are coming to destroy human civilization – and in this case, the date of their arrival is said to be December 2012. At first I thought this lovely young girl was merely a harmless eccentric. After all, yours truly briefly fell in with a group of conspiracy buffs back in college – so to each their own, right? Some people like to fish, some people like to ski, and some people spend a first date trying to convince you that Santa Claus is a tool of the Illuminati used to brainwash children. It was sort of funny at first, but my patience was exhausted when she tried to convince me that we needed to be stocking up a year's worth of food so that we could survive the coming calamity.
For the record, I am not making this up.
Call me cavalier but I am the sort of person who just isn't generally concerned about the end of the world. Whether we're talking about nuclear holocaust, Y2K, Alien Apocalypse or the End of Days, if it's going to happen it's going to happen and I doubt that having a cellar full of cling peaches is going to be the difference between life and death. Besides, in the event of a full scale nuclear exchange I personally wouldn't want to be one of the survivors. But what if it did happen and you did survive? Would you feel obligated to help rebuild civilization? Would you give up in the face of insurmountable catastrophe? Or would you look out for only yourself, living for today because you can't see tomorrow? It's an improbable scenario, but it's one with real life applications. Some would argue that who you become in an extreme situation is largely dependent on who you were to begin with. But what if the desolate world of post apocalyptia was all you'd ever known? What would separate a man from an animal if he'd never learned the value of being human to begin with?
This is a question posed by the well respected but relatively obscure Harlan Ellison short story A Boy and his Dog, as well as the movie of the same name. Released in 1975, the film originally addressed an audience for whom the threat of nuclear annihilation probably seemed more immediate. But as with much of science fiction, the plausibility of the basic scenario wasn't the point. The goal was to place human beings in improbable circumstances in order to test some basic assumptions about their nature. The most obvious question evident from the very first scene of A Boy and his Dog seems to be less "what does it mean to be human" than "what does it mean to act like one?" What makes a civilized human being; is it the physical trappings of civilization itself? Or is it the sense of culture that comes from the inherent sense of compassion, trust and justice we all must share in order to survive as a society? There's a saying that says "civilization is three meals deep" - and when you take food, water and shelter out of the equation, what is it really that separates man from animal? A Boy and his Dog explores this through the eyes of a teenage war survivor named Vic and his telepathic canine companion, named Blood. Together they scour the wasteland for food, shelter and women – and not necessarily in that order. But we'll get to them in a moment.