Wiener-Dog is a deceptive movie. It is technically a sequel to Todd Solondz’s cult classic Welcome to the Dollhouse, but only for about a quarter of its running time. It’s actually an anthology, built around the often tragic life of an adorable, stoic dachshund. Each stop is totally separate from the last, each new character a slightly different riff on solitude and bitterness.
Yet even this structural diversity is deceptive. For while the film contains a variety of stories and locations, it is essentially one long expansion of a single set. The opening credits play over an anonymous animal shelter, where Wiener-Dog patiently waits to be adopted. One side has bars, the other a clear panel. The bright light highlights the sickly green walls, like the antiseptic glow of a dystopian hospital.
Wiener-Dog makes it out, but the cage lingers…
Production designer Akin McKenzie, art director Max Wixom and set decorator Daniel Kersting make constant reference to its texture, color and shape. It becomes clear that it is not simply a depiction of the condition of dogs, but a bleak metaphor for the lives of us all.
The first stop on this road is the home of Danny (Tracy Letts) and Dina (Julie Delpy), an upper-middle-class family with a modernist house and a lonely son. Their sleek furniture is certainly well-chosen, but it’s hardly a novel take-down of suburban respectability. The real story is in the basement, where they keep Wiener-Dog in a metal cage.
The room is lit with almost the same green as the shelter. The cage is right at the center, next to some dark green cleaning implements. We know that there’s a perfectly pleasant house with lots of natural light just beyond the door, but that doesn’t banish the subterranean chill of this captivity.
After Wiener-Dog is pushed out, betrayed by her own internal organs, we get one last glimpse of this room. The cage is on its side. The floor has been recently cleaned with a green bucket and mop. Notice the shade of the detergent on top of the washing machine. For the shelter dog, this wasn’t much of a change.
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