ISLE OF DOGS: A More or Less Spoiler-Free Live Discussion

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Hello! Welcome to a conversation with Redhawk Radio Senior Editor Meg Matthias and Reel Talk writer Annie Eyre. Follow along as they discuss Wes Anderson’s new film Isle of Dogs, which they saw together and both thought was charming, delightful, and heartwarming. You can also tune in to their radio show, A & M in the AM, on Fridays at 2pm.

Isle of Dogs premiered at the Berlinale International Film Festival and opened in theaters on March 23, 2018.

Disclaimer: This discussion did not actually happen live, but is very similar to the conversation that Meg and Annie would have conducted about this movie if they had recorded and transcribed it.

Annie: So, first of all, can we just discuss how perfectly this movie understood the dog/human relationship? Also, how well it portrayed the inner-workings of these adorable stop-motion canines? Because I was IMPRESSED.

Meg: Yes, please. Every time the dogs’ eyes welled up with tears about missing their owners, I would also immediately start to cry.

Annie: Okay yes that’s very true! It was crazy how quickly this movie could transform me from laughter to instant tears.

Meg: We were probably very impolite theater-goers and definitely felt bad about it, but I don’t know how anyone could have watched this movie without verbalizing each feeling they had. Every moment in this movie is so evocative, either in weird fun humor or in absolute empathy. It feels very documentary style, or found-footage—especially with the introducing note that humans speak their own language but all barks have been translated—and it felt relatable to my life even though it’s one of the stranger narratives that I’ve seen.  

Annie: That’s such a perfect way to put it. And I think that’s something Wes Anderson films have always been able to achieve, but I honestly think this one may have been his most successful yet. It has almost all of the hallmarks of his movies: quirky framing, hilarious one-liners, tall girls dating small boys, Bill Murray… but Isle of Dogs still managed to be incredibly unique, even within the context of Anderson’s distinct, creative style.

Meg: I agree completely. After first seeing the trailer I (and I think a lot of other people) immediately began thinking about this movie as Fantastic Mr. Fox Part 2, but though it’s very Wes Anderson Brand, Isle of Dogs still feels apart from anything I’ve seen before. I want to say it’s more sentimental than I’m used to, but maybe that’s not it—maybe it’s the mix of overt and implied sentiment that feels so different. What do you think?

Annie: I definitely feel like the use of such a universally relatable bond between pet and human as the main relationship in the film was enough to immediately make the audience feel sentimental. Anyone who has ever had a dog can understand just how special that bond is, and I think that Anderson used that relationship to keep the overarching feeling that sustained for the entire story. I don’t know if it’s sentimental, or tender, or something else entirely, but I do know that I had tears absolutely pouring down my face when one of the dogs began to cry as he comforted his owner, saying “I hear you, I hear you.”

Meg: The very memory of this scene is enough to make me cry in public! Since we cried enough when we saw the actual movie, maybe let’s move to the most important question of this movie: Which dogs are we? Personally I am the dog voiced by Jeff Goldblum, who IMDb says is named Duke (the dog names in this film are very hard to remember). He is very silly and sometimes anxious and most of his lines start with “I heard a rumor about….” At the end he is asked how he finds all of these rumors, and his answer is basically, “I love gossip,” and I think he is very me and also very every single person in my hundred-person high school graduating class.

Annie: You are absolutely Jeff Goldblum Dog AKA Duke! He was hilarious, and I also think that Jeff Goldblum has to be in every Wes Anderson film from now on. Personally, I’ve thought long and hard about which dog I am, and I think I’d have to tag myself as Rex AKA the dog who you think will be a Big Main Character but then he’s not! I really related to his love of democracy and “taking a vote” for every decision he ever made. Also, he was on The Little Pilot’s side the whole time, but then Chief gets to have a bath and become best friends with Atari while Rex and co. suffer through the most traumatic moments of their whole dog lives. I truly believe Rex deserved better, but ((spoiler!)) at least he didn’t die in that incinerator like we feared.

 

To readers: You, too, can find out which dog you are! Take Annie and Meg’s Buzzfeed quiz here.

 

Meg: I know Rex didn’t mean to imply that he was willing to be incinerated to protect his right to vote, but that was definitely the underlying impression. This is a beautiful story about dogs but it is also kind of a story that is working very hard against fascism, and I kept getting glimpses of Anderson’s (important!) political arguments while watching the dogs fight for their lives.  

Annie: Meg wait that’s so true and I definitely thought that too whilst watching the movie, but then when it was over I just kept thinking about the dogs and forgot the important political commentary! That was very Wes Anderson of Wes Anderson to create a movie that showcases his politics while also being about a whole lot of weird things that weren’t overtly political at all.

Meg: There’s a W.E.B. DuBois essay I read in a poetry class last year where he argues that “all art is propaganda,” which my classmates and I tended to discuss as “all art is political, regardless of subject,” and I think that is the best way to describe it. I don’t think this movie with this subject matter (dogs being EXILED!) could have existed without political commentary, especially with our current climate that seems very institutionally anti-empathy. This is a very empathetic movie.

Annie: Yes, I 100% agree. I don’t know when Wes Anderson began to write the screenplay, but there’s no doubt that the movie came out at a very significant time.

Meg: I agree completely. I only had one problem with the entire, incredible movie, which was that the two main lady dogs felt like very human women who added nothing to the plot and were only included for romantic interest? But Tracy, the teen reporter played by love-of-our-lives Greta Gerwig, drove much of the human plot that existed apart from Little Pilot and the Isle itself, and I think she at least halfway consoles that worry. Gender is complicated when most of your characters are dogs I guess, and while I wish Anderson had worked a little harder to unravel those concepts, I don’t need to write a think-piece about it.

Annie: I felt the same way for sure. While the girl dogs were a little too unrealistically beautiful and useless, I do agree that Greta Gerwig’s teen girl (from Cincinnati!) more-or-less made up for that issue. Also, maybe Wes Anderson is one of those people who assumes all dogs are boy dogs and doesn’t realize that dogs don’t conform to human gender norms? Hopefully someday someone can help him see the truth.

Meg: Our entire theater screamed when they mentioned that Greta Gerwig’s teen girl was from Cincinnati. I am fairly certain I said “Oh, shit!” in a medium-loud voice, which was not great but was a very honest reaction on my part.

Annie: There is literally nothing more exciting for Midwesterners than hearing their hometowns mentioned in popular culture. Wes Anderson knows what Cincinnati is?? Groundbreaking.

If you enjoyed this conversation, you can also find Annie and Meg’s content on Buzzfeed, where they create quizzes like “Which Phantom Thread Character Are You Based On These Seven Questions?” and “Which 17th-18th Century Couple Are You And Your Significant Other?”

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