There isn’t much left to say about George Miller’s Mad Max films. They’ve gone from the first entry’s scrappy DIY exploitation to Fury Road‘s multimillion-dollar, 20-years-in-the-making masterpiece. From the backwaters of Australia to the barren deserts of Namibia; from a tale of simple revenge to an all-encompassing modern myth of redemption and rebirth. Just think of all the insane stunts, the impeccable production design, the memorable characters with menacingly goofy names like “Toecutter” or “Master Blaster.” And the cars! But instead, we’re here going to talk about the one element, specifically in Miller’s 1981 Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough: a character that might just be Miller’s greatest creation, featuring one of the very best performances of its kind in the history of cinema.
We’re, of course, talking about the dog. Max Rockatansky’s dog, that is, named Dog. His stalwart companion, the last link to his remaining humanity. Quite simply, he’s undeniably the greatest movie dog of all time: Lassie, Benji, the dog from Independence Day, whichever one of Milo and Otis was the dog… take the L and go home. None can compare to Dog from The Road Warrior. I could find no listing for Dog’s real name, but he was an Australian Blue Heeler who, according to legend, was discovered by Miller after a lengthy casting process, rescued from the pound on the day before his scheduled euthanasia. Dog picked up a rock and dropped it at Miller’s feet, and was thus cast on the spot. (Only later was it learned that he did this with everyone.) In order to be discharged from the pound, he would have to be neutered, but Miller argued that nobody would neuter a dog in the post-apocalypse, so Dog was instead given a vasectomy. He was too scared of the noise of production, apparently losing his bowels whenever the cars’ engines revved, so cotton was put in his little dog ears.
It’s impossible for a dog to be anything but themself; there is absolutely no guile, but Dog is so meticulous and expressive that it’s hard to believe there isn’t an actual performance happening here. When he lounges in the sun with Max, belly up, tongue out, you see genuine happiness. When he outwits Max’s enemies, you can see the wheels turning inside his mind, the perfect engine of cleverness. Like his human keeper, Dog has seen some shit, and every one of those experiences has formed his personality and character. The real Dog might not have weathered the post-apocalypse, but the Australian dog pound is traumatic enough. This little guy’s tangerine-sized brain was still big enough to go method.
Not only is Dog the greatest movie dog in history, he also receives the most tragic death of possibly any film character ever. Fiercely defending Max when his best friend has been grievously injured, Dog takes a crossbow bolt from one of Lord Humungus’ flunkies. His last words are a defiant yip. Unceremonious? Yes. But his sacrifice motivates Max to regain what’s left of his sense of honor, to hang on to the last shreds of his humanity, and return to help the gas-hoarding refugees escape the desert with their load of the precious juice. In real life, at the end of his role, Dog was adopted by a production stuntman, and spent the rest of his life corralling sheep and eating chickens. Rest in peace, amigo. Next time you watch The Road Warrior, with its majestic, almost Homeric story of the last hard man, remember who stood behind him, who was the real hero. Dog.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Film Canon.