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The post-apocalypse comes in many forms. You get the dystopian future stuff (Akira, Equilibrium, 1984), the Machine Dawn (Terminator, The Matrix), Extinction (Planet of the Apes), Disease (28 Days Later) and Invasion (Oblivion). But the image it conjures today is inevitably batsh** biker hell-hole, where we are all shanking each other for the last bottle of urine.
All roads to the wasteland end with Mad Max: Road Warrior, the seminal masterpiece that defined a harrowing and much realer near-future than other sci-fi apocalypses. Any end-of-world scenario that involves scavenging, knife skills and making sure your friends don’t eat you owe a debt to Road Warrior.
But the family tree goes back one more branch. Road Warrior was by the admission of its creator a homage to A Boy and His Dog. This grim but darkly comedic indie movie may have carved out a new cinematic genre all by itself.
Prior to 1975, wasteland sci-fi largely dealt with the immediate aftermath of a nuclear dawn or a world there is only a lone survivor. But sci-fi authors of the period poured their anxieties about the Cold War into their work. Some of this material, a series of novels by Harlan Ellison, were adapted into a movie.
After World War IV devastated the world of 2025 in mere days, a young Don Johnston and his telepathic dog companion Blood survive in a desert landscape. He relies on Blood to help track movement and find women, while Blood relies on Johnson’s Vic for food. It’s an endearing friendship – Blood’s ability is never explained, but his frequent banters with Vic shows he is the smarter of the two. But the hot-blooded teenager Vic is set on getting laid, a pursuit that eventually lands him in trouble.
Their world is lawless and chaotic, with marauding gangs and plenty of brutal murder. Our heroes are not particularly ethical either, but at least they shine in comparison to their fellow wasteland citizens. But there is also a subterranean society that runs a highly organised, but still completely twisted and autocratic idea of suburbia.
Ellison’s work, typical for his generation, was as much symbolic as realistic, so in comparison with more modern sci-fi that surreal switch in tone is a bit jarring. But it works if you just go with it. And then there is the ending, which is a bit of a legend in its own right.
But it doesn’t matter if you don’t enjoy A Boy and His Dog. It is still a bit of history, a time before Max went mad and Fallout opened a shelter door.[/column] [column size=one_half position=last ] [/column]
Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.
Last Updated: August 24, 2015