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This year has been the worst. Think of literally everything that's happened in the world in the past six months and try telling me it hasn't been a complete dung pile of a year. Like if 2016 was a movie, it would be the most lit disaster film of our time and we'd be stuffing our faces with popcorn Michael Jackson style as we watch the world burn. But this is some real world shit and we live in it, so instead it's like living in the worst dystopian movie ever.
People turn to movies during hard times as a form of escapism. In 2009, The New York Times ran a piece titled "In Downturn, Americans Flock to the Movies." Meaning that when everything is terrible, people buy tickets at the box office (even when there's a goddamn economic crisis, people will spend what little money they have to feel a little bit better for 90 minutes). But for a *ahem* cinéphile like myself, this year has been the worst in that department too: Movies in 2016 so far have been the worst in recent memory. If I'm being 100 with you, coming up with a top 25 list at the mid-year mark was a struggle. Only a handful—less than I could count on one hand—have been standouts. What's even worse (yes, it does get worse) is that I've seen way too many movies this year—even the good ones!—in which dogs are brutally killed.
It's been pretty much universally established that it's way more difficult to watch dogs die on the screen than humans. Imagine my turmoil, as someone who watches movies for a living! And here I am still getting hella sad thinking about Will Smith's dog in I Am Legend (P.S. I even remembered her by her real name, Abbey, rather than her character name, Sam). Don't even talk to me about Old Yeller, you guys. As fantastical as John Wick is, there's never a moment where I'm like 'Hm this movie is not believable' because I too would probably go batshit and kill everyone if they kicked my helpless puppy to death.
We're only halfway through the year and already I've seen no less than five films in which the pup dies. So let me just say this before we officially move into the second half of the year: PLEASE. STOP. KILLING. DOGS. My heart can't take it anymore. I might stop watching movies altogether if this trend continues. Okay that's not true but y'all are really making it really hard for me to enjoy my favorite pastime. I'm constantly tormented!!! Please end my pain!!! [Some spoilers ahead.]
"People care more about animals than they do about people," director Ti West told me regarding his new movie, In a Valley of Violence (out later this year), on why it works on an emotional level. The Western thriller, a departure from his usual horror genre, has been getting John Wick comparisons because it also involves a dude (the silent loner cowboy type played by Ethan Hawke) who avenges his dog's violent death. From everything I've seen, the dog in this movie is the most iconic movie animal of the year, and that means something because, trust me, if anything, this has been a good year in film for iconic animals (see: The Witch, Keanu, and The Shallows' seagull). I loved this movie, but man it hurt a fucking lot.
Here's why watching dogs die sucks especially hard: All dogs are cute. Dogs are even cute when they are ugly. Humans aren't like that. Dogs are impossible to hate. If they suck, that's almost always a reflection of the owner. In the buzzy Korean horror film The Wailing, there's a terrible dog (his owner is literally Satan) and even enduring that vicious beast die—by a brutal beating—was awful to watch. And I don't even think it happened onscreen. Alia Shawkat aims her gun at a Nazi-owned dog in Green Room, and even then I metaphorically clutched my pearls.
This trend has even happened in my favorite movie of the year (so far). Colin Farrell's dog (which is actually his brother turned into an animal) gets slaughtered by his heartless wife in The Lobster, and it elicits such a strong reaction in him that it becomes a catalyst for the second act of the film. It was so horrible that I gripped someone's arm in terror watching it for the second time in theaters. It certainly did not help that this dog is the same breed as my dream dog (a border collie). And oh god, I can already see Colin Farrell's suppressed crying face in my mind and I want to die. I've seen even the most charismatic people hurt dogs this year. Tom Hiddleston—you beautiful, awful savage—kills and eats a fucking dog in the dystopian universe that is High-Rise. I get it, survival, whatever, but really, fam? Also, this scene might actually be an apt metaphor for 2016—both movies and the real world.
Imagine, then, watching a movie for the sole purpose of a dog, going into it knowing it's a dog movie, having the dog be the star of the movie, only to have its life end in the most shocking manner right before your eyes. That would be Todd Solondz's Wiener-Dog, a vignette film that follows a wiener-dog around as he encounters new owners and families. He gets passed down from Julie Delpy to Greta Gerwig, is given a silly intermission, then lands in Danny Devito's hands, and finally, eventually, accompanying a grumpy Ellen Burstyn, who names him Cancer. And boy is that name an indication of how tragic the ending is. Wiener-dog, poor fucking wiener-dog, gets run over by a truck. And then by another. And another car. And another car. It gets run over so much that it becomes hard to tell whether that was a live dog or just a ketchup-stained hot dog. And right when you're caught between tears and laughter (the latter because you're too shocked to react properly), the movie ends, leaving you empty and soulless. God, that movie still haunts me.
There's nothing worse than watching dogs getting killed, and cinema has killed hella dogs just in this first part of the year. I'm not even asking for high art at this point, I just need dogs to survive the awful society we currently live in. I swear to god, if I see another dog die in 2016, I'm going to lose it. Now, let's all hold hands and form a prayer circle and hope this doesn't become a new movie trend.