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Can Someone Tell Us What Happens to Animals in Movies?

02/28/2014 12:28 EST | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT

My better half says I should write a book called Bill Sikes' Dog.

The first time he suggested this was when we watched David Lean's 1948 version of Oliver Twist and I spent fifteen minutes after the credits had rolled saying (or screaming), "But what about Bill Sikes' dog? What happened to his dog? Did he get hurt? Did someone adopt him?" After Bill Sikes dies (he has been hunted down by a mob for having committed murder) his dog -- who had previously been running around London barking his discontent and leading the mob to Sikes -- simply disappears. Oliver returns to his wealthy forebears. The End.

What about the dog? I can't recall whether he had a happy ending in the book (I recall he had a pretty miserable life), but where the movie was concerned, I was hoping for a coda along the lines of "Oliver Twist adopted Bill Sikes' dog and treated him to a life of love and comfort."

But my book wouldn't merely be about the inadequately-explained fate of Bill Sikes' dog. It would be about so many inadequately-explained fates of animals in movies, as though their fates don't matter to viewers or worse, at all.

For example, in Steven Spielberg's Munich, Mossad (or connected-to-Mossad) agents assassinate a hired killer from the Netherlands who happens to have a cat. While they move the cat away from the corpse, they don't take him or her with them when they leave. So what happens? After witnessing the execution, is the poor cat left without care, or did one of the Mossad guys call the local SPCA? My preference would have been for a little blurb at the end of the film that said, "And one of the agents took kitty with him and kitty was adopted by a family in a suburb of Tel Aviv and was loved by all. So you can relax now, Rondi."

Is that asking too much?

The small screen is guilty of similar offences. I was troubled in season two of the usually stellar Mad Men, when Duck Phillips tossed his dog, Chauncey, out onto the mean streets of New York. We were given no resolution for the dog, but a recurring role for Duck (which included far more sex and work than he deserved after what he did to Chauncey). How about a scene later in the season where, say, Bert Cooper finds the dog and adopts him? Would that have been so difficult to weave into the story-line?

You might guess that I also don't like watching movies with scenes of violence against animals.

I turned off Vittorio de Sica's Umberto D, shortly before the final scene because it looked as though Umberto's dog was going to die during his master's suicide attempt (poor, downtrodden Umberto stands on a train track holding his beloved dog in his arms, awaiting one of those post-Mussolini, not-on-time, Italian trains). For the longest time, I believed the story ended with both of their deaths. But last year I was studying in Italy and my History of Italian Cinema professor informed me otherwise. Not only does the dog live, but he saves Umberto's life.

This is why the beau is now frequently tasked with being my movie-watching advance man. So far, he hasn't seen Inside Llewyn Davis and until he does, I won't and I won't know whether the Oscars were right in snubbing it. I love the idea of a man and his cat, but the fact that the Coen brothers are involved tells me neither man nor beast will fare well. Anyway, no man-and-cat movie can ever match the near-perfect Harry and Tonto, so why bother?

The movie I have watched second-most in my life (after The Sound of Music) is Patton, even though it contains a scene through which I have to fast-forward: in Sicily, American troops are waiting for an Italian man and his mules to cross a bridge. The mules do not move sufficiently quickly for the impatient general and they are shot and tossed into the water. It's terribly upsetting (and was probably unnecessary - I mean, I am second to no one in my contempt for Nazis but would another half hour have changed the course of the war?) but I love the rest of the movie so much I just speed through it.

If that seems odd to you, just wait for the release of Bill Sikes' Dog, where it will all be explained and you will be able to say, "Rondi, you magnificent animal-lover, I read your book!"

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