In the film A Boy and His Dog (1975), Vic, a teenager, struggles to stay alive in a hostile, post-apocalyptic world. Following a nuclear war, civilisation has collapsed, and anything resembling a society as we know it has clearly been eradicated, as does any notion of moral decency. And, wandering through this remorseless landscape, Vic, relies on his genetically mutated canine companion (Blood), who has telepathic powers, and appears to be intellectually well read. Vic and Blood are mutually dependent on one another for their survival.
The desert wilderness in A Boy and His Dog is sparsely populated, and those who have survived sustain themselves by pilfering stores from beneath the desert sand, taking from the ruined civilisation that pre-existed the nuclear war. The survivors dig holes in the ground, searching for tinned food, and plundering the dangerous subterranean ruins.
On the desert surface, people have formed small gangs, or live individually, and those who have something to barter, congregate in way stations, where they can barter for provisions, and buy entertainment. What remains of society appears to have descended into a vulgar, pre-feminist, male dominated culture, the few surviving women abandoned to wondering sexual predators — the concept of statutory rape forgotten. The protagonist is not a moral ‘hero’, so much as a survivor who does whatever it takes to stay alive (he is also one of the marauding rapists).
It’s an unpalatable environment — how much of this is the writer’s vision of a post-moral world, or some form of semiconscious wish fulfilment is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, it portrays a harsh world where people struggle to defend themselves from marauding bandits that openly prey on the weak. There is a certain resonance here with the self-reliance of the Old American West, the pioneer sprit of the frontier lifestyle.
A Boy and His Dog is about individual self-reliance in a world without a functioning society. The story is deeply misogynistic: a world where the few remaining women to have survived a nuclear war are effectively abandoned to rape. The film The Survivalist (2015) portrays another post-apocalyptic world where social morality has been abandoned over the power of the individual — in the name of personal survival — but in this bleak story, at least the central character has enough redeeming qualities to sacrifice himself for something bigger than himself. In The Road (2009), in a dying world filled with anarchy and violent cannibals, a father will do everything he can to protect his son. And this is what makes A Boy and His Dog so disturbing, its complete lack of a moral framework, and not a single character possessing a virtuous motivation.
There are three environments in the film: the surface, the ruins below the surface, and ‘down under’, the underground bunker society that’s evolved into a bizarre and surreal simulation of 1950s America. Each environment appears to provide respite from the one that precedes it, but turns out to be significantly more threatening. Vic learns that he has been lured into ‘down under’ to father babies (the population there is on the verge of sterility). Once he’s carried out this task he will be killed. ‘Down under’ is a highly controlled, largely automated society, that (cut off from a wider human context) has stagnated. Now its citizens appear to live pointlessly ritualistic lives, their culture and identity a meaningless pastiche of 20th Century America.