FilmEye: Wiener-Dog by Todd Solondz

Notes on cinema inspired by historical images by Dan Williams


Your companion

Wiener-Dog is the latest film from controversial independent film-maker Todd Solondz, whose work has regularly shocked audiences with sardonic comedy and disturbing subject matter.

So what happens when he places a sausage dog at the centre of his story.  In fact the cute dachshund links four stories, and in effect occupies the hero position in the narrative, without speaking, or achieving a heroic rescue of his master (as was the case, memorably, in that warm-hearted comedy ‘The Artist’).

Wiener-Dog is stately, detached, a prisoner of circumstance, and is rewarded with his own montage style intermission sequence (disrupting the narrative illusion) and a rousing theme tune.

The dachshund certainly suffers surrounded by a dysfunctional collection of human beings. However, he is also a counter point to their endless anxieties and despair; and benefits sporadically from empathy, kindness and solidarity.

So, Solondz is following a tradition, where at last we get down to shin level, and see the world differently, with the dog given a temporary state of independent existence.

The Totonac civilization. Mural by Diego Rivera. Dog. National Palace Mexico City. ©Haruko Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

The Totonac civilization. Mural by Diego Rivera. Dog. National Palace Mexico City.
©Haruko Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

Your protector

Sometimes, dogs are scary, their symbolism and stateliness wrought from their ferocity.

This is never the case with wiener-dog, the eponymous protagonist of Solondz’s movie. He is the playmate of a lonely child, and then after escaping a savage reprisal for their destruction of  bourgeois decorum he is liberated and adopted by gawky Dawn Wiener, the vet’s assistant, played by Greta Gerwig, in understated style.

A big dog or mastiff, Watchdog from Apadana of Persepolis. Achaemenid period. 5th century BC. Persia.Teheran Bastan Museum, Iran. ©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

A big dog or mastiff, Watchdog from Apadana of Persepolis. Achaemenid period. 5th century BC. Persia.Teheran Bastan Museum, Iran.
©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

Your playmate

Dogs have always been represented through their contribution to human adventures and hunting.

However, in Wiener-Dog, heroism itself is deconstructed through the totally deadbeat figure of a film professor, played by Danny DeVito, struggling with futility and surrounded by shallowness in the film-making school.

Solondz shows how the dog is given different roles and identities, but is mainly taken for granted, by the sad and disturbed protagonists, a strangely successful platform for absurd humour.

If you are a dog lover, approach the film with caution, but rest assured Wiener-Dog is the hero.

Roman mosaic showing hunting dog. Sousse, 2nd-4th cent. AD.TUNISIA ©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd.

Roman mosaic showing hunting dog. Sousse, 2nd-4th cent. AD.TUNISIA
©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection Ltd.