Eavesdropping at the Movies: 186 – Neither Wolf Nor Dog

It’s enormously disappointing that Neither Wolf Nor Dog is as bad as it is, because its subject – Native American life in a society built upon a land that was taken from them, and the pain, grievances and stories that the displaced people carry with them – is massively, conspicuously underrepresented in US cinema and demands to be explored. Unfortunately, although the story on which it is based is true, the hackneyed device of a white man, Kent, who learns about someone different and with whom we’re supposed to emotionally identify falls on its face, and the filmmaking is awful. When the film visits Wounded Knee and we hear Dan, the Lakota elder, expose his history of pain and loss, Kent’s unearned tears destroy the scene.

Mike argues for the film’s first act, suggesting that it sets up promising questions and themes, and has a slowness that invites the audience to contemplate these. Dan’s interactions with Kent, knowingly using him to tell his stories, conflicts with his friend Grover’s reaction, suspicious but willing to put his feelings aside to do what Dan wants, and his granddaughter Wenonah, hostile and concerned that her granddad might be taken advantage of. This is all inextricably tied to the history of white invaders to America and the treatment to which the natives have been subjected for generations… but the promise of how the film could develop is far preferable to how it does develop, uncritically, unimaginatively using tropes that illuminate nothing and relying on undramatised oral storytelling to express its themes.

José, on the other hand, hated the film from the start and wanted to leave long before the end. He argues that there’s a self-importance to the filmmaker, Steven Lewis Simpson, on display, and Mike argues (with no proof of course) that Simpson edits his own Wikipedia page.

It’s a shame to have to declare that Neither Wolf Nor Dog is terrible but there it is. For people on nodding terms at best with Native American history to emerge from it having learned nothing, having gleaned no insight into the life it depicts, is a fundamental failure on the film’s part. A huge missed opportunity.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.


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