Every Monday night for the next seven weeks HBO will premiere a different documentary film in an annual summer series. Each film will depict something totally different from the next. The first one premiered last night (06.018.12). HBOWatch has already provided a detailed preview of it so I am going to comment a bit differently about it. This post and the others that will appear after each documentary premieres will be a gut reaction response to the topic featured.
Overview: When I first saw the poster for this documentary I focused on a dog, a healthy looking canine and then the show’s title ONE NATION UNDER DOG. I thought it rather odd that HBO would offer an ode to man’s best friend or a history of various breeds. That sounded like something for Animal Planet not HBO. And then I took a second look at the poster and noticed the subtitle. It reads “A TALE OF FEAR, LOSS AND BETRAYAL. At that point the fence shown between the dog and the viewer pops out more prominently. The connotation now changes from one of “the pup safe in its yard” to one of “this dog is imprisoned.” Now that sounded like an HBO documentary.
Expectations: The title defines my expectations. I want to feel fear, loss and betrayal by the time this piece is over. I strongly suspect with the stories that are to be told that I won’t feel to jolly by the time this documentary is done. That is OK with me; I want programs to move me. My ‘review’ of this piece will all hinge on how well I am emotionally caught up in the film.
Gut reaction: Bow wow WOW! I not only felt fear, loss and betrayal but also, anger, hurt, shame, disgust and sadness. It was a powerful message told in eight stories about life with dogs. It also added statistics and quotes from famous people to complete a concept that make my emotions run rampant.
But, just sticking to the three segments in the film, we start with FEAR. It was intended to be the fear humans should have for certain dangerous dogs. Clearly, there are such animals out there but as lower animals than we they need controlled and disciplined and tended. Those types of dogs take more time and training to make them suitable. I believe that all dogs with the proper training, even the Ridgebacks and the Pitbulls can be trained to be more docile. I’m sure I would get great argument on that point.
LOSS was the theme that is most humorous in this film because of the segment on the cloned dog was played so light-heartedly. I was OK with this segment. Everyone handles loss and grief in their own fashion. As a person who has had one dog or another every year of my life I can relate to the sentiment of dogs being a part of the family. So, I can understand the counseling and the cemeteries. The cloning, however, was an extreme instance that again played for levity.
You need the levity before seeing the third segment called BETRAYAL. Dogs as companions and workers have not failed us. Mankind as failed in being loyal and helpful to them. The images and sounds of waning howls of gassed canines will stay with you for a while. The film leaves me with a feeling that mankind is poor at being stewards, but that there is still hope and second chances for some dogs out there thanks to the angles who rescue and the families who adopt.
In Conclusion: I suppose there are some who might not be fazed by this documentary, though they are likely never to watch it anyway. There are those that believe that all “lower” animals, including dogs, are just natural resources to be used. And there are those, like me, who value all of them as lives that have a place. The filmmakers and HBO have delivered a powerful message about some of the not so nice relationships humans have with dogs. I encourage you to watch ONE NATION UNDER DOG: TALES OF FEAR, LOSS AND BETRAYAL on HBO or HBOGO, but be prepared for a rollercoaster ride of emotions far beyond the ones of the subtitle.