Film News

Pop Culture Nonstarters: John Wick’s Dead Dog

Sometimes, no amount of positive word-of-mouth and hype is going to be enough to get people to watch something. Sometimes, a film studio or TV network’s advertising arm is going to be powerless in its fight for your time and/or money because sometimes a film or TV show’s very premise is an instant nonstarter for audiences. I personally know people who recognize that Law & Order: SVU is a good TV show, but they’re never going to watch it because they’re simply uncomfortable sitting through hour-long investigations of crimes of a sexual nature. That’s understandable. In an era in which the insane variety of options for things to watch consistently overwhelms the free time you actually have, you have to draw the line somewhere. Well, I’ve drawn such a line with Keanu Reeves’ new movie John Wick, yet the fact that it’s apparently a heck of a film is causing me to rethink that.

I first became aware of John Wick when a 30-second TV commercial popped up during an episode of Supernatural a couple of weeks. I had never heard of the movie before that, didn’t know what it was about, and really had no idea what Keanu Reeves had been up to since 47 Ronin. As a Bill & Ted/Speed/Matrix fan, I’m always willing to at least take a look at a trailer for anything Reeves is in. However, it took me literally three seconds into this 30-second TV commercial to decide that there was no way in hell I was going to see John Wick. Why?
Well, at the one second mark we meet Daisy, a ridiculously adorable Beagle puppy being all puppy-like with Reeves’ retired hitman character:

imageIt’s a low-down, no-good, lazy trick to throw a cute dog at us in a movie, the type of hack move Frank Darabont’s The Majestic joked was the type of thing studio executives in Old Hollywood used to force into movies in lieu of trying something original. But, seriously, who doesn’t love a puppy? John Wick officially had my attention.

Then at the three second mark we see a bloodied Keanu Reeves on the floor of his apartment while his voice-over informs us that he lost everything. Daisy barks at the assailants like a cute little puppy who doesn’t realize how small she is, and they respond by dragging her on the ground over next to Reeves and fatally punching her in the head:
imageAs Phoebe Buffey would say, “What kind of sick, doggy snuff film is this?”

And I’m out. Sure, the rest of the movie actually looks fun, with “They killed my dog!” being more than sufficient motivation for the revenge killing spree Reeves’ titular character goes on. To be fair, it’s actually more about what the dog represents since it turns out she was posthumously left to Wick by his dead wife, who arranged for him to have it as a coping mechanism. However, that particular level of nuance isn’t so much communicated in the 30-second commercial, which mostly sticks to, “They killed my dog; they must die!” For my own sensibilities, that actually trumps Liam Neeson’s “They took my daughter!” motivation in the first Taken film. In fact, I really, really, really want John Wick to dole out Punisher-style vigilante justice to any bastard who had anything to do with killing Daisy. I just don’t want to be there to see it.

I should pause right now to point out that the whole time I’ve been writing this article I’ve had a 12-year-old Pug sleeping at my feet, snoring the way Pugs do, twitching every now and then in reaction to the dreams she’s having. It’s adorable. I’m not the type who will dress them up in outfits, make them pose for calenders, or carry them around in handbags, but, yeah, I’m a dog person.

Maybe it’s because 8-year-old me was traumatized by foolishly believing Hooch would be fine after taking a bullet for Tom Hanks in Turner & Hooch, or that I did not at all sign up for the group cry session Marley & Me turned out to be when I saw it on Christmas Day 6 years ago. Here’s a dead dog – Merry freaking Christmas. Or maybe it’s any other number of fictional dogs I’ve seen killed off in films over the year. Either way, I’ve been hurt before, and I’m not going to let John Wick do it again. I just can’t stand to see dogs killed off in movies. I know that doesn’t ultimately make sense since I’m usually fine with all the death and mayhem I’ve seen in action films over the years.

image
A faux lost dog ad for Seven Psychopaths

Director/writer Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths mocked those of us who feel that way, depicting a Hollywood screenwriter becoming entangled in “the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.” Don’t worry – they don’t kill the dog because Benny (Sam Rockwell), who has masterminded the whole thing just to give his friend (Colin Farrell) the inspiration for a great screenplay, reasons, “You can’t let the animals die in a movie, just the women.”

That line got a fair bit of press at the time for being a bitter takedown of a culture in which I’m inspired to write this very article because John Wick dared to kill a dog, but I wasn’t particularly bothered when I saw an innocent female character ruthlessly murdered (eh, kind of) in a recent Vampire Diaries episode. This is the type of world where a website (DoesTheDogDie.com) which chronicles all pet-related deaths in films gets profiled by Time Magazine but no such alternative exists for female characters, unless somebody wants to get started on doesthegirldie.com.  Part of it, though, is you simply don’t see animals killed that often in movies. So, you’re not as desensitized to it as you are to other forms of violence in movies. Another part is that there is an inherent difference between watching an actor pretend to die and a dog responding to the off-screen commands from its trainer.

However, a funny thing has happened since I saw that John Wick commercial: the reviews are in, and it’s apparently a heck of a film. It currently has an 86% Fresh Rating on RottenTomatoes, with the following critical consensus, “Stylish, thrilling, and giddily kinetic, John Wick serves as a satisfying return to action for Keanu Reeves — and what looks like it could be the first of a franchise.”

Isn’t it kind of silly of me to completely dismiss this movie because it kills a dog? After all, I could always simply look away during that part, right? Plus, isn’t it pretty messed up that I’m not okay with the dead dog, but I’m totally on board with the trail of dead human bodies Wick will leave behind in his quest for vengeance? Actually, yes, yes, and yes, but I don’t care. Kill a dog in a movie? That’s a nonstarter for me.

What about you? What are your pop culture nonstarters, those things that simply lose you at the pitch stage? Are you with me on John Wick? Or do you think it’s not that big of a deal? Let me know in the comments.

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11 comments

    1. Sorry. I don’t have an exact minute on that. I just checked DoesTheDogDie.com again (https://www.doesthedogdie.com/2911666), and they don’t seem to either. I have actually seen John Wick at this point, which I know runs completely counter to pretty much everything I said in my article. I’ll just say that I had a best friend who briefly became obsessed with this movie, and almost literally dragged me to the theater so I could share in the brilliance of John Wick. The stuff with the dog happens very early on, no later than 10 minutes into the film, and you can easily tell when it’s about to happen. I just looked away, and it is over pretty fast. But if I was watching it on DVD or VOD or something and didn’t want to see the dog die I would just fast-forward very fast or hit the “Next Chapter” button the moment that John Wick falls asleep on his bed with the dog next to him, and then in the middle of the night the dog jumps off the bed and starts barking at something we can’t see. That’s the moment right before it all goes down.

      I’m sorry if that’s good enough. If you can simply avoid or skip or turn away during the brief moment with the dog John Wick is actually an insanely fun movie. It reminded me of The Raid: Redemption…a lot.

    1. Movie was ok….but dog death traumatizing. Can never stand the sound of an injured dog even if they didn’t show it…..which I will never know cuz I simply CANT look. Yes, people can die, but horses can NOT fall down and or make terrible noises while falling down. Dog injuries of ANY kind can not even b insinuated. AND STOP playing that Sarah McLaughlin song for God’s sake! Those commercials are torturous! I think the movie should b rewritten with dog kidnapping followed by total ass kicking and then completely unharmed, dog rescue!

      1. “I think the movie should be rewritten with dog kidnapping followed by total ass kicking and then completely unharmed, dog rescue!”

        There is actually a movie that kind of, sort of has that plot. It’s a totally different tone than John Wick, with very little ass-kicking and more philosophical ruminating, but Seven Psychopaths is all about a group of friends who kidnap dogs only to then claim to have found them and return them to the owners for a finder’s fee. They accidentally kidnap the dog of a crazy, glorified crime lord (Woody Harrelson), and try to ransom him only to end up running for their lives.

  1. I’m a dog service professional (previous vet tech/trainer/walker), so “dog person” doesn’t even begin to describe me, and I had absolutely no warning as to what was going to happen in this film. I had never seen an advert that said anything other than “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back,” so when that scene came, my blood went cold and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’m away from home and was just letting films come and go on the same HBO channel, but got hooked on Wick when I saw the cute Beagle. My husband has mentioned hearing great things about this movie, so I immediately paused it as soon as my breath came back to me, and called him to freak out about why he hadn’t warned me. He apologized (sounds comical, but I was on the edge of tears and he really felt it was a legitimate oversight to not have warned me), calmed me down and told me that the best therapy would be to watch the rest, to see the revenge. After all, that’s why they did choose to kill the dog and not just hurt or kidnap it…the excitement over the massacre that followed was fueled by the extreme bodily response to seeing a gorgeous, innocent, doting puppy have its head smashed in (and that whimper…it will haunt my nightmares for months, I can already tell). But it wasn’t enough for me, clearly, since I did a Google search of “John Wick Dead Puppy” right after finishing it and am verbally vomiting into the comments section of this article. I wanted to see the son of the Russian mobster tortured, like the Medieval European body-sawing-in-half kind that starts between the legs and goes to the abdomen while the subject hangs upside-down so that he still has bloodflow to his brain and can feel it until the end.
    I see bad things happen to dogs in real life on a more regular basis than most people because they are my job. I watched a desperate owner carry his black lab into a vet clinic as the vet I assisted tried in vain to dislodge a tennis ball from his throat after an innocent game of fetch. I’ve seen numerous bloody fights at dog runs, some that have resulted in serious injuries and one that resulted in death. I work in the busiest parts of NYC, and every time something awful happens to one of its canine residents, I gravitate to the situation like a magnet because I SO want to help. Sometimes I can (I’m a pro at breaking up fights and have the scars to prove it), sometimes I can’t. But I can tell you that I’m not desensitized by it, not even after nearly 20 years. If anything, I’m more hurt by animal suffering the more I see it. Because they’re so purely loving and so void of any alterior motives. I mean, yeah, they want the treats I have in my hand when I’m training them, but any one of my dogs would defend me in the same way that Daisy defended John.
    To make matters worse, I have a puppy client named Piper who is a 5-month-old Beagle and looks identical to the dog playing Daisy. She is constantly daring Darwinian theory, putting her head into holes where it doesn’t fit and trying to chase blowing paper into busy streets. Her shriek of terror when she lodged her head into a small opening in a baby gate was eerily similar to Daisy’s last cry, because she didn’t know I would be able to pull her ears back through gently first and then glide the rest of her silly head through…for all she knew, she was going to die. And that’s why it’s so hard to watch even the imitation of an animal suffering…we can’t communicate with them, so they have only to fear the absolute worst-case scenario, or we have only to imagine that that’s what they’re imagining. And when the worst-case is ACTUALLY happening to them…unimaginable. Maybe because I’ve never been in a war and seen a human suffer. Maybe that’s my luxury as a sheltered American in this time period. Suffering is relative, so relative to my sensibilities, I wish I could un-see John Wick.

  2. Playblows–your post was almost as traumatic as watching the dog die 😦 I can’t believe you deal with that on a regular basis. I am in awe of you, I simply couldn’t do it. It would cause me to kill myself, no question.

  3. It has been a day since John Wick came on the tv and captured my attention. I have never felt so sick and so stressed. I watched the adorable puppy be so kind and loving… Only to see it die. I don’t care that it’s a movie. It is an innocent dog and I’m physically sick because I watched that scene. I keep crying even thinking about it. I’m a huge animal lover. I could never hurt anything. That scene made it so hard to sleep. I can’t seem to get it out of my head. I’m pretty sensitive to animals being hurt… I know it is just a movie.. but that was a seriously fucked up and traumatizing scene.

    1. Um, if it at all helps, which it probably won’t, they didn’t actually kill that dog (just movie make-believe and all that), and that particular plot point is not repeated in the sequel.

      However, I can empathize. It’s a genuinely distressing thing to watch for animal lovers. I’m curious if you knew about the scene beforehand. Because I was ultimately dragged to see John Wick but knew when the dog death happened (and thus when to look away, if I wanted to). Did you have that same option? Or did it catch you totally off guard? Because that would obviously make it worse.

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