The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “Isle of Dogs,” click here.
It would be nice if people didn’t believe what they believe just because they were told to believe it.
Think about all the stories of people who support the removal of non-criminal undocumented immigrants because they’re a danger to society — right up until the policy grabs their next-door neighbor, who never did anything wrong and threw really great barbecues and whose daughters were just so sweet. They never intended for that guy to be deported; they just wanted the OTHER guys, the ones not like him, gone. Or those who argue that marriage is a sacred arrangement between a man and his third wife (twice married herself), right up until they meet their son’s really nice boyfriend. The most effective way to change people’s minds about “those people” is to find a “them” that matters to “us.”
“Isle of Dogs” is like that, but with puppers.
Director Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animated film (after 2009’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) is a wryly funny, deeply sweet yet never saccharine story of a boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin), who travels to an island full of exiled dogs in order to save his best friend Spots (Liev Schreiber). All of the town’s canines were sent off the mainland after a dog-hating tyrannical leader drummed up fear about illnesses. Atari, though, knows that Spots is a good boy a very good boy yes he is yes he is. So he flies to the island, whereupon he crashes because he is a boy flying an airplane, and teams up with a pack to bring Spots home.
Of course, Atari doesn’t believe that Spots is the only good boy a very good boy yes he is yes he is. If Spots is a good boy (OK, you get the picture), then there must be other good boys (etc., etc.), too. Atari and the small group of people who support dog rights all do so because they have had dogs who loved them, who jumped around like idiots when they came home and who wouldn’t leave them alone for seriously five minutes I am just going to go to the bathroom, OK?
Political change often comes from personal contact. It is a slow — agonizingly slow — technique, but the results are often permanent. Minds may change and positions may evolve on the theoretical, but it’s hard to retreat from the practical. Most people’s views on gun control, for example, evolve throughout their lives. They get a text from their teenager who’s under a desk and their mind gets made up for good real quick. And if their mind isn’t made up, it’s safe to assume their teenager’s is.
The majority of people in “Isle of Dogs” believe a lot of theoretical things that make them feel personally threatened. The line between the personal and the political got very blurred, and could stay that way, because the people were told that dogs are bad and, since most of them hadn’t met a good dog, that seemed reasonable enough. It would be nice if they had looked critically at the information and seen it for the sham it was, but that’s hard for anyone to do — especially if no one else around you is doing it, either. But when the facts get in their face, and the facts have a wet nose and a wagging tail, the theoretical falls away. One good boy can undo a lot of damage — and make it stay undone.
More Reelists from Kristen Page-Kirby