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Weird Watch: ‘White God’

Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Turkish Star Wars. For every Batman, there is a Filipino Batman. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the 2014 Hungarian drama White God. (Last week: Beyond the Black Rainbow)

Genres set the rules of a film. Imagine if you walked into a movie and you had no idea what was going to happen. Unless you are a small child, that is unthinkable. If you have seen a movie before, you know the rules. The genre sets the framework of the story, no matter what the film. A Western, you know, is going to have a gunslinger walk into a town, he’s going to get into a gun fight with a bad guy, and then finally the hero will have saved the town and can ride off into the sunset. The particulars will vary between movies, but the genre has an outline for every Western plot.

But does it always have to be that way? Maybe instead of a gunfight, the gunslinger settles down to become a peaceful banker, or maybe he is diagnosed with cancer, or maybe he ends up on the moon brokering a peace between two alien races. You can really do anything in a story, the only limits are imagination. We simply do not just anything because we think we need to follow the rules of the genre. Well, how about a movie that breaks them?

It does not matter how many films you have seen, you are not prepared for a movie like the 2015 Hungarian arthouse drama film, White God directed by Kornél Mundruczó. I would recommend you stop reading this Weird Watch right now if you have not already seen White God. Because I may have already spoiled too much already. It is a movie best experienced with no inkling as to what it going to happen. Wherever you might think White God is going, you are going to be wrong.

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White God certainly begins like just a European arthouse drama film. The movie opens with a surreal image of a little girl on a bicycle riding through the completely empty streets of Budapest while being chased by hundreds of wild dogs. The scene makes no sense, what could it mean? Where is this White God thing going? With most arthouse films, this would be a mere dream sequence, some kind of complex visual metaphor. White God has very different plans.

When we cut over to the plot, we learn that this is the story of Lili, a thirteen-year-old girl who is being forced to live with her cold distant father in Budapest while her mother goes off to Australia on vacation. Lili is joined by her beloved dog, Hagen, a loyal pet yet a mongrel. Lili’s father throws the dog out onto the streets when a local bureaucrat demands that he pay a small tax for the animal, separating Lili and Hagen. So we can see a basic plot developing here: Lili has her difficult coming of age story. She connects with her father, meets kids her age, does some dangerous things to test her boundaries, etc. And Hagen has to face the difficult life of in the dog in Eastern Europe. But eventually Lili will find Hagen, they will both have grown, and we have a happy ending.

Yeah no. White God has other places to go.

Turns out being a stray dog in Budapest is awful. Hagen has a terrible odyssey across the capital of Hungary, reaching every kind of brutality and misery a dog can suffer by humanity. Hagen’s life is portrayed like he is the victim of a species class warfare, everywhere he goes he runs into more evil people who want to hurt him. He goes hungry, he’s beaten, he’s captured by dog fighters and turned into a killing machine, then he’s thrown in the pound. Hagen is tortured from every direction, until finally he’s had enough. He’s been tortured, forced to kill his own kind, lost everything. He is going to pay the humans back. Time for White God to stop being a slow contemplative drama and turn into a war horror film. Enough Homeward Bound, we’re turning into Cujo meets Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

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The second half of White God is a full canine revolution in the middle of Western Civilization. Hagen leads a small army of dogs across the streets at war with mankind. It is the uprising of the quadrupeds. Man’s Best Friend has been abused enough, and the revenge is shown right on camera. Police barricades fail, all defenses collapse, and before long Hagen is the four-legged ruler of Budapest.

What is Hagen’s goal? To mercilessly hunt down every one of his enemies. Hagen is out to even the score, one brutal murder at a time. Everybody who beat him, everybody who mistreated him, everybody who betrayed him, all slain one by one in slasher movie efficiency. Eventually, he has killed nearly every character we have met in the movie. Finally, all that is left is Lili and her father, and a final choice between hate, monstrosity, and revenge, or forgiveness and a chance at peace.

Kornél Mundruczó directed White God using mostly practical filmography and actual dogs in most scenes. Up to two hundred and fifty animals were let loose to run along Budapest’s avenues for the main shots, and in most shots dozens of dogs are running at once. This had to be a massive achievement of logistics, crowd management, and clean-up. On top of that Mundruczó had two dog actors he had to use to play out the role of Hagen. The role of a defeated vagrant who is pushed too far and forced to unleash his inner monster upon the world would be difficult even for a human actor. White God is a two-hour gripping drama/horror film starring a character who cannot speak a single line of dialog. Pulling that off successfully is a major achievement.

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It is not easy to know how to react to a movie like White God. Should be emotionally uplifted by a girl and her dog coming back together? Should you be weeping at the cruelties mankind unleashes upon his supposed best friend? Or more likely than not, you’ll be laughing in hysterics as a movie goes off the rails, sailing far off the tracks, into a completely unknown and bizarre possibility for a finale. What were the filmmakers trying to achieve here? Hard to really say. But White God is a completely unique experience; a journey from one end of cinema to the other.


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