Film Review: “The Dog”

When one views the trailer for “The Dog,” it is easy to write this movie off as a story of crime. Intriguing as it may seem, the connection between John Wojtowicz, the Dog himself, to the LBGT community does not appear strong, despite knowing that he robs a bank to fund his transgender lover’s sex change surgery. However, the trailer does not do the film its justice, as it chronicles a man’s adventurous life, filled with love, sexual diversity and social change. Directors Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren provide their audience with a film that is both climatic and informative.

John Wojtowicz, a cisgender man from New York City, takes viewers through his life as a soldier, a member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a four-time husband and proud criminal. One learns about the LGBT community following the Stonewall Riots and becomes acutely aware of how difficult life was for a gay or transgender person in this time. The film takes viewers through John’s military career, where he has his first “gay experience,” his marriage to his cisgender wife Carmen, his relationship and marriage to transgender women Liz Eden, the bank robbery he commits for her surgery, his time in prison, the creation of the film “Dog Day Afternoon,” and his relationship with his gender fluid wife George.[1]

One theme that the film addresses is ability, as viewers learn about John’s brother Tony. Tony suffers from epilepsy and seizures, and was taken away from his mother Terry when he was five and placed into a state institution. Although Tony’s narrative is not dominant, one learns about the struggle of the differently abled from his scenes. Following John’s release from prison, he and Tony go to Coney Island together. Terry narrates this scene, explaining what happened to Tony as a toddler and how he ended up in state custody. Tony’s epilepsy causes him to lose his memory, requiring him to relearn many things following a seizure. The stigma attached to the differently abled is made abundantly clear when Terry expresses her fear state intervention, leading to the separation of Terry and Tony.[2] One can also observe that John treats Tony differently; when discussing his bank robbery with Tony, he does not say that he robbed the bank for Liz’s surgery, which he always mentions in other conversations. Additionally, John expresses his frustration with Tony’s inability to understand that John is dying from cancer.[3]

John is liberal about expressing his sexuality, however his views towards others seem oppressive. He mentions that his GAA membership is due to sexual intentions, while his counterparts are concerned with political change.[4] He does not consider how his race places him in an advantageous position, as he clearly benefits from being a cisgender, white man. In addition, his attitude towards Liz’s surgeries is not always supportive, as he deprives her of any agency. He explains that prior to her hospitalization, Liz “agreed” not to have the operation because John was against it, ultimately leading to her suicide attempt.[5] John does not identify with essentialism, explaining that he looks for a partner with “big tits and a little dick,” yet he initially refuses to support Liz’s surgery.[6] He adheres to hegemonic masculinity; described as the subordination of women, authority and aggression, these traits seem to come through rather strong when he describes his relationship with Bobby Westenberg.[7] John ultimately gets what he wants from his sexual partners, often through force, and sees no wrong in this. He is not concerned with receiving Bobby’s consent, and despite his refusal, he coerces him to have sex with him.[8]

While the film chronicles John’s life, it is Liz’s story that exposes the many problematic institutions in American society. Upon her hospitalization, she is labeled insane because of her wish to have a sex change, illustrating the problematic way that North American society handles one’s transition. Aside from stigmatizing Liz, John points out that doctors wanted to treat her with Electric Shock Therapy to “cure her.” [9] To transition in Canada, one must be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, suggesting that being transgender entails a mental illness. Archaic “remedies” such as conversion therapy continue to exist in the United States, to “cure” transgender youth, suggesting that one’s gender identity is invalid if it does not match their biological sex.[10]

Following Liz’s suicide attempt, she is able to have her surgery, but the film does not address the lack of access some have to these procedures. Liz herself points out how expensive her procedures are, but does not consider that other people have no means to fund their surgeries. This suggests that for one to successfully transition, they need to possess economic and racial privilege, as healthcare is not universal in the United States, and racial and colonial structures continue to dictate one’s accessibility in society.[11] The film seems to conveniently ignore the white privilege that John and his peers possess. Despite chronicling the years following the Civil Rights Movement, the film makes no mention of the African American experience. [12]

The Reelout Film Festival provides a very welcoming, comfortable and warm experience for those who attend. The screening room itself is not large, but it is certainly cozy and welcoming. It is evident that the Festival is appreciative of its community support, as the ads presented were exclusively local, and these sponsors provided some giveaways for audience members. A diverse audience attended this screening, as people of many ages were in the audience, and pricing was rather reasonable. However, the venue could have been somewhat more wheelchair accessible; it was unclear if the venue had an elevator, and the theatre was on an upper floor in the building. While select parts of the film were captioned, full closed captioning would have made the film more accessible to some viewers.

Although John exhibits some problematic behaviours, his story is certainly one that needs to be told. “The Dog” shows a man who embraces his sexual identity, and eventually his partner’s gender identity. Describing himself as a pervert with “horns,” John’s wives and members of the GAA speak of his intentions positively.[13] John’s story illustrates the importance of social movements and fighting for one’s rights, but also exposes how far society needs to go to rid itself of some long standing prejudices and oppressive structures.

[1] The Dog. Directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. (2013, Toronto, Toronto International Film Festival, 2014), Cinema.

[2] Terry Basso Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog.

[3] John Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Judy Aulette Root and Judith Wittner. Gendered Words, Third Edition. (New York: Oxford, 2015): 33.

[7] Root Aulette and Wittner, Gendered Worlds, 413.

[8] John Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog

[9] Ibid.

[10] Laci Green. “Pray the Gay Away.” January 14, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGFEDYrkDek

[11] Matani, 2015, Week 6

[12] John Wojtowicz, 2015, The Dog

[13] The Dog, 2015.

Bibliography

Green, Laci. “Pray the Gay Away.” YouTube Video, 4:34. Posted by “lacigreen” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGFEDYrkDek

Root Aulette, Judy and Wittner, Judtih. Gendered Words, Third Edition. New York: Oxford, 2015.

Metani, Maria-Teresa. Week 6 Tutorial Notes.

The Dog. Directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. 2013, Toronto, Toronto International Film Festival, 2014, Cinema

“The Dog Theatrical Trailer.” YouTube Video, 1:35. Posted by “Film Festivals and Indie Films” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqE90Y2q88w

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Film Review: “The Dog”

4 thoughts on “Film Review: “The Dog”

  1. piper125 says:

    Your review of this film was exceptionally thorough and I really appreciated your intersectional approach to analyzing the subtleties of the film as well as breaking down John’s identity. One of the things I really appreciated you touching on was the implicit class privilege that is gone unsaid when sex change procedures are glazed over in media. Few people realize that these procedures are financially taxing on those that are not exceptionally wealthy. You mentioned that this is important in the US because of their private healthcare system, but as far as I know, Canadian healthcare also does not cover the costs of sex change operations. I also agree with you that a diagnosis of gender dysphoria should not be necessary for those undergoing sex change operations. In my opinion, the fact that this is classified as a mental illness is an outdated and erroneous call on the part of the DSM, and imagine that it will be phased out in the future as was homosexuality. Thanks for an enjoyable read!!

    Like

  2. After understanding that The Dog was a documentary film, I found it very interesting how rich and complex the film is with the many themes, personal stories and politics that accompany the film. I found it very intriguing that John robs a bank for his partner’s sex change surgery. You don’t hear about this happening everyday! From your film review, I understand that a big theme in the film concerns a transgender/transitioning individual. You mentioned specifically in paragraph five some of the problematic ways that both America and Canada handle one’s transition. I liked that you added in some of these facts to better understand the politics around this social movement. Do you feel that from watching the film that these negative stigmas around sex change surgeries will decrease within years to come or will they continue to remain the same?

    In your film review I really enjoyed your detailed analysis of the film. You touched on many ideas such as race, ability, politics and gender identity. I would have liked to hear more of your opinions on certain aspects of the film to better understand the experience of what it was like for you while watching the film. Throughout the film review and after watching the trailer I was curious to know what your opinion about John was. I was really happy to see that you ended your film review with your overall opinion about him. From understanding the summary of the film I was not sure if John was inspirational or too intense with his beliefs, but your last line really demonstrated the inspirational personality John held for you. From your film review, I am inspired to learn more about John’s story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. pennatucky says:

    This review was very in depth about all the the different aspects of the film. It was interesting that you looked at Johns differently abled brother. I went to see the film also and forgot a lot of the points you are bringing up. Another point that I found interesting in the film was about Johns mental health. The film makers kind of slide over the issue. Another interesting point that the film makers did not discuss was the polygamous dynamic of the relationships that John and his partners had. It was definitely an interesting point brought up about class privilege and being able to afford sex reassignment surgery. However a lot of Liz’s surgery’s were paid for by John, through the money for the film and from interviews and what not.
    All in all this was a very informative piece of writing

    Like

  4. Just by looking at the trailer, there is a lot going on. After all, it is a documentary of a man’s life. However, I really appreciate your effort to make this review as thorough and as in-depth as it can be. I found one of the point in your review quite interesting, and that is the use of Electric Shock Therapy to cure Liz. This is a particular interest to me because I also have done some research myself and found that before homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in 1973, it was actually thought to be a “disorder” that can be cured by employing those electric shock treatment. Therefore, even you didn’t really mention in your review, I would’ve guessed that the film was set in the time before 1973.

    Throughout the review, you have provided some really interesting facts on many aspects from the content of the movie, but I am quite interested to hear some of your opinions as well. Overall a great review!

    Like

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