Monday, 12 January 2015

Baxter (1989) - review

Have you ever wondered what your pet dog thinks? Deep down, do you think your dog is a sadist, a fascist, and selfish enough to kill? If you have, then maybe Jérôme Boivin's Baxter is a film you'll want to see.

With our human tendencies to anthropomorphize animals, whether wild or domestic, there has been a tremendous onslaught of films showing animals, especially dogs, to be happy-go-lucky companions in need of human masters (think Homeward Bound and Up). Baxter, the titular bull terrier that is the subject of the film, yearns for comfort and a cosy life, but sees humans as his slaves, and detests seeing himself as a pet.

Most of the film is told through Baxter's eyes. We hear his low register inner monologue recite diatribes of hate towards the humans that look after him, and longing for someone who is like him; a fascist.

His first owner, an old lady, he has nothing but contempt for, seeing her as a much lower than him. He longs for the young woman who lives across the street, and so pushes the old lady down the stairs, leaving him free for a new owner. The young woman is kind to him, but when she has a baby, Baxter's jealousy creeps up again.

He meets his match with his third owner, a young teenage boy with an unhealthy fascination with Eva Braun and the Nazi party. Happy to finally meet his match, Baxter becomes more like your typical dog, enjoying the regimented walks and training. However, when Baxter ends up having puppies with the dog of his owners friend, it is only then that he truly sees the sadism that he will soon have to endure.

The film is unique in its portrayal of Baxter. Where many films are keen to show pets as kindly and obedient, Baxter is a true bastard. He has contempt for humans, and sees them as subservient to his own means. It also raises interesting questions of how we train our pets, and how they could perceive that training. Are they masochists? Do they somehow enjoy the strict rules we place upon them?

Although animal rights have moved on a great deal since the films 1989 release, we are left to ponder how we has humans have got in a situation where we can decide the fate of our own pets. The barbarism of the teenage boy is extreme, but not unusual. The film questions why we should keep pets at all.

Not for the sentimental, Baxter is a brutal look at the psyche of man's best friend, and how we can never truly understand what goes through their heads.


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