London Film Festival: Stray Dog

Directed by Debra Granik
Starring Ron Hall and Alicia Hall

by Joanna Orland

The American Disillusion has filled the void left by the once hopeful and prosperous American Dream.  This dream Americans still convince themselves of is what makes the country’s citizens so very patriotic, and they are willing to fight to the death to defend it.

Director Debra Granik met Ronnie ‘Stray Dog’ Hall while filming her previous film Winter’s Bone.  On the surface, Ronnie is a classic American archetype – biker, war veteran (of both Korea and Vietnam), supporter of veterans, friend to his neighbours, husband to Mexican wife Alicia and stepfather to her children.  As much as Ronnie has given to the system, it has not returned the favour.  Ronnie is a strong, emotional, sensitive, funny, caring, complex and wonderful human being who sacrificed much to defend his country in war.  He was left to fend for himself to defeat his PTSD upon his return to America, as he lives in poverty, stating how he almost preferred his time living in Korea to his present in America, and could see Mexico as a prosperous place to live out his days as it reminds him of how America was in the 1950’s.

Where much of reality television would exploit a trailer-park resident biker subject matter for comedic and entertainment value, Granik explores the complexities of a character such as Ronnie.  He’s a passionate, hardworking and intelligent man in a less than ideal situation.  He wiles his days away learning Spanish on his computer, spending time with his lovely wife and helping war veterans and victims make better lives for themselves.  He also spends time visiting with his daughter and granddaughter who is a teenage school dropout, pregnant and about to marry her boyfriend whose job is working at McDonalds.

The true message of disillusionment becomes overtly demonstrated upon the arrival of Alicia’s twin sons Jesus and Angel.  During the documentary’s filming, the twins processed their paperwork and moved to America to join their mother in search of a better life north of the border.  The disappointment exudes from their faces.  Together they reminisce about their lives in Mexico, comparing Mexico City to their American trailer park as they wonder why they left their girlfriends, homes and lives behind for something less.

Stray Dog flips the stereotype on its head and exposes the American Dream for the American Disillusion that it has become.  Humorous on the surface but deeply sad beneath, no other documentary so accurately captures the problems and day to day issues of modern America.


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