There are certain films that I love, but will only watch once or twice in my lifetime. Films like Schindler’s List, 12 Years A Slave and The Elephant Man are brilliant, but such traumatic experiences that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch them again. White God is the latest to join that list.
Directed and co-written by Kornél Mundruczó, the story is one of a young girl and her dog. Forced to live with her astranged father for three months, Lili’s only real silver lining is the company of her crossbreed mutt, Hagen.
When a nosey neighbour reports Hagen to the local animal shelter, Lili’s father is more than happy to get rid of the dog and the two are soon separated. As Lili searches for her companion, Hagen suffers the physical and mental abuse of people on the streets, which triggers the beginning of a K-9 revolution.
The film’s opening sequence, which sees Lili riding around a deserted city only to suddenly find herself at the head of a tidal wave of dogs, is amongst some of the most magical and beautiful cinematic moments I’ve seen this year. It’s a wonderous scene that feels like a dream, before quickly turning into a nightmare.
White God is more than just a film about a girl and her dog – it’s a film about oppression, rebellion and mankind’s inherent cruelty. Mundruczó cleverly uses dogs and young adults – two entirely different beings joint together by their innocence – as a way of looking at the tough and brutal world in which we live in; where minorities are bullied and segregated because of their sexual preference, race and political beliefs – people who, like Hagen, could be considered impure by the majority.
Dealing with such a subject, the film is suitably brutal and hard to watch, especially if your a dog lover – or animal lover of any kind for that matter. As Hagen is constantly mistreated, physically abused and mentally manipulated to kill other dogs, White God turns into a tense and visceral watch that will truly test your fortitude.
So painful were these scenes to watch, that my fiancée asked to me to turn it off, refusing to watch the final half with me the next day. I’m glad she did, because I’m not sure she could have handled the ending which had me crying buckets for a good fifteen minutes.
That isn’t to say that White God is without hope and in the character of Lili, who is at the beginning of her adolescence, there’s a suggestion that things could get better with each new generation, as we become more tolerant and accepting of people who may be ‘different’ from us.
The message is quite clear. That we, as a people, have a habit of creating our own monsters and that you can only push somebody so far, before they fight back. Yet in the revolution there is sadness. As Hagen and his army of dogs escape death at a shelter – which feels more like a concentration camp – and go on to get revenge on the people who’ve hurt them, you can’t shake the sense that their own violence will ultimately be the end of them. And whilst the ending is ambigious, an unbearable sadness will linger with you long after its ending.
In this respect, White God is haunting and has stayed with me ever since I’ve watched it – like all great films should. It is really difficult viewing, but it’s worth your time and commitment simply because of its beauty and technical achievement. With a great use of music – integral to the plot – and remarkable performances – especially from the animals, whose trainers should be applauded – Mundruczó has crafted a triumph of cinema which I may never watch again, but will never forget.
Image credit to http://www.indiewire.com