Spending a quiet Saturday night at home with my dogs, I asked for suggestions about something to watch on Netflix. And when an accomplished film producer recommended the award-winning White God, I was curious to explore what’s been called “a beautiful metaphor for the political and cultural tensions sweeping contemporary Europe.” What I found, however, was a story that encapsulated the intrinsic and universal human supremacy at the foundation of civilized society as well as the response it demands in the form of organized revolution.
As the story opens, 13-year old Lily’s mother will be traveling so the girl and her dog, Hagen, are dropped off to spend three months with her estranged father. We meet the father, a one-time professor, as he carves slabs of flesh from a nonhuman carcass hanging in the slaughterhouse where he now works. Hungary has imposed a steep tax on any dog who’s not purebred. And the professor, like many of his compatriots, is unwilling to pay the tax for Hagen, a mongrel. The streets of Hungary as well as the shelters are overflowing with the unwanted, unloved, and disposable canines. Lily is unwilling to bring her dog to a shelter and, instead, takes him to her music rehearsal in an effort to keep him safe. But the dog is discovered and they are forced to leave.
Clearly placing no value on nonhuman life, her father ultimately finds Lily and her companion, drives his daughter home and abandons Hagen in the streets of Bulgaria. Tears roll down Lily’s face. The dog then begins a heart wrenching odyssey for survival, being demeaned and humiliated, chased and threatened when he tries to find food, while Gestapo-like dogcatchers patrol the city streets rounding up the homeless dogs and bringing them to shelters where they are promised a dismal existence or death. Hagen is caught and bought by a dogfighter; in some scenes that were very difficult to watch the one-time family dog is brutally beaten, starved, and abused, transforming the gentle animal into a vicious fighter. At the same time, Lily’s course leads her to drugs, alcohol, and an arrest. Ultimately, in a fantastic but important turn of events, Hagen turns against his abusers, frees the shelter dogs from their cages, and becomes the leader of an organized canine army that exacts revenge on the abusers and the city that once held them captive.
There are a few exhilarating scenes where the most violent humans are torn apart, experiencing the fear and agony that they’ve gleefully visited upon nonhumans, thus far without consequence.
I need to note that at the beginning of this movie, a subscript states that all of the street dogs filmed were adopted and placed into safe homes. And while I watched White God last night, the news here in Florida reported that there was one death in a traffic accident caused by livestock. In fact, there were four deaths – one human and three cows; but, clearly, irrespective of location, nonhuman life is devalued by a Master Race of humans who enslave every other species, torment and exploit them as is their birthright, and simply exterminate them when they are deemed a nuisance. Perhaps the most resounding dialogue was when the Romanian news reported that the greatest threat from the dogs ravaging their city was posed by their functioning as an “organized army.” As an Animal Liberation activist, it is clear to me that only when we organize ourselves do we pose a real threat to the systems of oppression that permeate society.
And as the canine armies exacted revenge, some died in the streets at the hands of police who mobilized to stop them. But they died free. And here lies the difference between our struggle for Animal Liberation and the struggle of one who is fighting for their own freedom. How many of us are willing to die for the cause? I would suggest that if we were fighting for our own lives, we would see far less debating and negotiating and far more aggressive action.
White God ends where Lily and Hagen are finally reunited in the street; backed by an army of dogs, Hagen does not seem to recognize his old friend, greeting her with snarls and baring his teeth instead. The professor initially runs outside with a blowtorch to protect his daughter, but she picks up her instrument instead and the music appears to remind Hagen that this girl has always been his friend. He lays down and his expression becomes passive; his army of dogs follows suit. Lily then lays down with Hagen and her father eventually joins her. The film closes on a scene of peacefulness and seeming understanding between species — a vision of a world in which the Master Race transcends its privilege to find meaningful co-existence.
At the end of the day, rights are not given; they’re taken. And only with a revolution of thought and corresponding action will we ever realize Animal Liberation.