After attacking a woman he had been stalking, an unstable young man isolates himself from the world and wears a dog mask in an attempt to cope with what he’s done.
Earlier this year I went on a tirade over the movie “I am Ichihashi: Journal of a Murderer” because the movie had the audacity to try and trick and manipulate the audience into feeling sympathy for a real-life rapist/murderer. Now I find myself in a similar position with “Waldo the Dog” — a movie that openly asks the audience, “Can you sympathize with a main character who is a rapist?” Yet I’m not angry about like I was with “I am Ichihashi” but I am in fact wondering why the Kris Canonizado’s film wasn’t able to succeed in making me feel sympathetic for his character.
It was strange going into “Waldo the Dog” since I knew what the movie was about and what kind of character Waldo was. And it was strange because I couldn’t help but think of Jason Banker’s “Felt” (which Ronny reviewed) and how the movies came across like polar opposites. They take on a similar concept of self-identity after a woman is raped. “Felt” is from the victim’s perspective and how she uses masks and costumes to find herself. Where as “Waldo the Dog” focuses on the rapist who uses a mask to remove is identity in order to separate himself from the world. Both movies utilize the concept of false personas excellently yet “Felt” is the only movie that managed to succeed in creating an emotional resonance with audiences.
Sure, you could say that it’s because most people (who aren’t complete monsters) can automatically empathize with a rape victim. It’s not hard to imagine just how horrible that is to go through. And there is some truth to that in regards to “Felt” — there being a built in level of empathy from the viewers — but it has more to do with the fact that we also got to know the character. We knew who she was as a person and went along with her on her journey. In “Waldo the Dog”, while the film does a great job of illustrating the separation and isolation that Waldo feels by dawning a dog mask. It unfortunately separates the audience from the character and the character’s emotion as well. We understand what the character is suppose to be feeling when he sits slumped over in a swing as he watches everyday people. But there’s no real connection between us and him — we understand through logic of what the emotion is suppose to be but there is no actual feeling in these moments.
This is something that has everything to do with the dog mask that Waldo wears. Again, we understand the symbolism of the mask but it separates the audience from the character because we cannot see his most important features: his face and his eyes. There’s a reason why they say that eyes are windows to the soul. Facial features allow us to have a better emotional reading on someone. More so than body language, at the very least. We know the character is suffering but we don’t actually understand it. It’s a movie where the emotion comes across only through the audience’s own logic of knowing what’s trying to be conveyed.
The other problem is that film overall lacks any sense of sincerity. Due to a combined choice in creativity and budget constraints, “Waldo the Dog” is shot in a style we’re seeing grow in popularity amongst indie and low-budget filmmakers. A contemporary take on the cinéma vérité style where there is a focus on ultra-realism. Generally, it works well in blurring the line that separates reality and fantasy in movies, yet it comes across as more of a manufactured style in “Waldo the Dog”. At times I felt more like I was watching “Trash Humpers” — a movie that’s desperately trying to be esoteric and avant-garde in a sense. And I don’t want to come across as insulting to Canonizado’s film since this is a style that suited this project the best, even if it may have been brought on by limitations. Like I said though, it lacks the sincerity in capturing the essence of a character’s physical and emotional self-imposed isolation.
Again, the movie’s driving theme is finding out if an audience can be sympathetic towards a character that we know is a rapist. It might be possible, however, it’s impossible to relate or feel for a character when we’re reduced to watching scene after scene of him learning to become a pro-wrestler. Or a scene where he sits on a street corner holding a sign that offers oral services in exchange for money. Then proceeds to stand up and dance excitedly when a woman takes him up on the offer. It’s hard enough to understand the Waldo character due to the mask but it’s impossible to generate any connection with these empty, meaningless scenes.
Kris Canonizado gave himself a difficult task when he decided to make a movie where he asks the audience if they can forgive a character who we know raped someone. It’s challenging because the immediate answer is no. I tried to make a similar point in the “I am Ichihashi” review but I’ll bring it up here again. Audiences can forgive and have sympathy for a character who hurts another person, even with something like murder because it can be possible for a good person to make a bad decision in a moment. With something like rape it’s extremely hard to be forgiving, if not impossible, because there is simply no context, no justification that makes it an acceptable decision. It’s not something that can accidentally happen. It’s a choice that person makes from a sense of entitlement — they believe they have the right to degrade and destroy another human being for the sake of their own satisfaction and pleasure.
While part of me doesn’t like the question that’s being asked of me by the film, I still can appreciate the willingness to take on such a challenge. And I understand this could be a difficult film for some people to watch, given that our culture (speaking as someone who lives in the US) has no shame in supporting a perpetrator above a victim.
And at no point do I think that this movie is advocating those types but I could understand why someone might take offense given the sensitive subject. Again though, I do appreciate what Kris Canonizado was trying to do with the film. It was a risky decision. Unfortunately it was a decision that didn’t pay off due to the film’s own style hindering the concept. In order for an audience to be empathetic to a character the audience has to have a connection. It’s impossible for there to be a connection when the character doesn't feel real and the movie doesn’t feel sincere.