Is The Isle Of Dogs an Allegory of Tyranny?

written by zed      


Whatever happened to man's best friend? A question asked by scientist Watanabe, voiced by Yoko Ono, in the latest Wes Anderson movie titled the Isle of Dogs seems to reflect the current state of affairs in the world more accurately than any of us would like to admit. People are being incarcerated in camps, hate speech can often be heard in public, while authoritarian figures are ruling world's most powerful countries. Just like in the Isle of Dogs, an animated movie that was co-written by Kunichi Nomura, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson, only instead of people, dogs are suffering.

Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) from the Kobayashi clan is on a mission to deport all dogs to Trash Island, where they will be left to starve to death. The movie starts in a futuristic and slightly dystopian setting where all hope is lost for dogs who live in the fictitious Japanese city of Megasaki. All resistance is futile because Mayor Kobayashi's thugs have a way of silencing opposition, including scientists like Watanabe. The first dog to be deported to Trash Island is Spots, a bodyguard dog of the mayor's ward Atari Kobayashi.  

The unwilling hero Atari embarks on a dangerous adventure to find his beloved dog and to bring justice to all dogs who were exiled to Trash Island just because they had a bad case of dog flu. He steals an airplane, crashes on the island and meets a pack of dogs who become his loyal followers in the rebellion against Mayor Kobayashi. Rex's (Edward Norton), Duke's (Jeff Goldblum), King's (Bob  Balaban), Boss' (Bill Murray) and Chief's (Bryan Cranston) flamboyant personalities serve as a reminder that those who are being oppressed are often the ones who least deserve any form of oppression.

The group decides to help young Atari to find his dog Spots, despite Chief's reluctance and they find themselves in mortal danger on more than one occasion as a result of this decision. The entire storyline that takes place on Trash Island shows that hard times bring people and dogs together because they have no other choice but to rely on each other.

Meanwhile, Scientist Watanabe discovers the dog flu vaccine that renders the canine deportation useless, but Mayor Kobayashi has him executed in an attempt to stop the news from reaching the public. The foreign-exchange student and the only white student in Megasaki Senior High Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) starts investigating Mayor Kobayashi's shady politics regarding the deportation of dogs. She finds out that the vaccine that cures dog flu already exists and decides to confront the Mayor of Megasaki on the election day.

The culmination of the movie takes place after Mayor Kobayashi is reelected by a majority of votes. The leader of the resistance accuses him of election fraud, while Atari leads an army of dogs back to Megasaki to face their archenemy. After Atari's inspiring speech to the people of Megasaki, Kobayashi's change of heat and a brawl Atari becomes the new mayor of the fictitious city and dogs are once more man's best friends.

Communication is yet another subject Anderson brilliantly tackles. All the humans in the movie speak Japanese, while dogs speak English. There are no subtitles for the parts in Japanese, although a bulk of the dialogue is translated by other characters in the movie. The lack of communication is probably one of the main reasons why dogs are being prosecuted by humans, and the director of the flick beautifully underlines the importance of communication in conflict resolution.  

The Isle of Dogs is a seemingly benign story about overcoming adversity and standing up for what is right. If we take a closer look we will discover deportations, imprisonment and a number of other topics we face on a day to day basis.

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel are also stories about misfits and underdogs who against all odds manage to overcome their troubles and find true happiness. As romantic as this may sound all of his movies that deal with rebellion against rigid, authoritarian rules carry a positive message. As if he is trying to say that even if, at times, it may seem futile to resist the norms imposed by an oppressive society, the worst thing imaginable is to stop resisting.

The Isle of Dogs presents a sugarcoated version of reality in which a happy end is possible, but the movie more than makes up for it with brilliant narration and dialogues. The visual aspect of the film is no less impressive, because its style is unique and memorable, like in all other Wes Anderson's masterpieces. Even though the renowned movie director is by no means new to the topic of oppression, his latest film seems to be the boldest one yet, because it deals with issues that are plaguing modern-day America as well as the rest of the world.             




About the writer//

Zed holds a masters degree in art history. He is a fine art photographer, an occasional short movie director in his spare time and a freelance writer based in Belgrade, Serbia. His articles were published in a number of print and online publications, and his photographs exhibited both at home and abroad on numerous occasions. Zed never ceases to be amazed by the wonder of moving images and he loves writing about every aspect of cinema.