Growing up I always wanted to be a Veterinarian. I was fascinated with animals from the time I could talk, and spent hours every day reading as much about them as I could. But due to an unfortunate Guinea Pig incident when she was growing up, my mother was decidedly anti-animals. My father, for his part, was pro-dog but really didn’t care for anything else unless it related to farm work. Because of this it was always a challenge to convince my parents to let me have a pet.
First up were my two pet Anoles, Jay and Sue. As I grew older I would later come to realize that they weren’t a male and a female Anole, but rather two males. This led to Jay being quite stressed out by the decidedly butch Sue. Eventually Jay succumbed to the stress and an aggressive mealworm, resulting in quite the traumatic discovery one horrific morning. I like to think that I would have been a fairly normal person if not for the discovery of Jay’s half eaten remains. My father, sensing an opening, and to be fair probably not wanting me to get upset when Sue invariably died in the future, proceeded to console his eight year old son by explaining that Sue was just upset as I was and should be released into the wild where she might find another of her own to live with. Of course, at that time I was not yet aware that Anoles were native to Florida and other tropical climates, and would stand no chance of surviving in the wilds of Iowa. Way to convince me to kill my pet, Dad.
Sadly, most of my other childhood pets didn’t fare much better. Their was the Painted Turtle I rescued from a country road that I kept in our kiddie pool, for about three days. At that point my mother demanded I release it in the nearby creek. Or how about the baby Garter Snake I caught and fed earthworms too. Who unfortunately didn’t survive when we left for our Christmas vacation and had no one to feed it. Then there was Mitzi, the enormous German Shepherd that was actually our neighbors dog, but yet she considered our yard to be part of her territory. Which meant I was really more her pet then her being my pet. So when my mom finally relented and said that I could have a dog, you could imagine my excitement.
Sheba was a sweet, kind dog, who eventually lived to the ripe old age of 17 before we came to the decision to put her down. Age had finally managed to catch up with her, sapping her hearing and much of her eye sight, as well as making her incontinent. Surprisingly, she still was a remarkably healthy dog in spite of those issues, and still relatively willing to go for runs with my father. But she became more and more fearful towards the end, as she clearly had trouble recognizing anyone but me or my father, and she started getting more aggressive as a result of her growing fear of the unknown. Life couldn’t have been easy for her at that point. Not recognizing anyone or even her surroundings. Constantly on edge because her senses were failing her. She simply wasn’t happy anymore. It was a life Baxter would have understood very well.
Baxter is the story of a lonely Bull Terrier. Originally rescued from a shelter and given to an old woman, Baxter quickly grows to despise his fearful “master”. As she grows ever reclusive from the outside world, Baxter begins to long for the chance to be owned by the young couple across the street. Baxter longs for a “master” that knows no fear, and as the old woman wastes away, Baxter devises a plan that will free him from her life.
But Baxter doesn’t stop there. Soon he finds himself living with the family of his dreams, but those dreams quickly turns into a nightmare when the couple has a baby. Baxter is disgusted by the child, whom he finds weak, and he soon begins to transfer this anger to the couple, who have relegated Baxter to second class standing in the family. As Baxter’s jealousy and anger grows, he plans on murdering the child and claiming the sole love of the couple as his prize.
But unfortunately for Baxter, his plan doesn’t go quite as he had planned. He once again finds himself a new master, this time a nine year boy with a growing fascination for emulating Adolph Hitler. Baxter sees the boy as a kindred spirit, and grows to love the boy and follow his every command. The boy in turn helps nurture Baxter’s growing rage and provides him with ample opportunities to vent it. But soon enough, Baxter once again finds an excuse to despise his master, setting him on yet another bloody collision course.
Baxter is quite the unique film to watch. Told via a voice over that represents Baxter’s thoughts, it stands to be one of the more original films out there. Baxter is a being struggling to understand the betrayal he has faced from those he has loved throughout most of his life, and the animal instincts that keep telling him that he must dominate everything in his path. Baxter simply can’t understand how to resolve these conflicting feelings, and because of this his resentment towards all creatures only grows.
Mirroring Baxter’s development is the young boy, who must deal with his parents who clearly don’t love each other anymore. Their lack of interest in his life only causes him to pull further into his shell, as he searches for someone that he can look up to. When he discovers the love story of Eva Braun and Adolph Hitler, he finally finds someone whom he can identify with. And without any decent role models in his life, the boy only grows further distant from both society and reality. He soon discovers an abandoned “bunker” at the local junkyard, and builds his own world out of the relics of others lives.
Baxter and the boy initially seem like a perfect match for each other. Baxter craves discipline and companionship, and the boy is only eager to provide both. But when Baxter attacks and kills a stray dog that was roaming through the junk yard, the boy mistakenly interprets that as a sign of Baxter being a monster, a monster that only the boy can control. This misconception forms what will become the inevitable rift that will destroy their relationship.
In a surprising twist from Hollywood films that portray dogs as loyal pets, Baxter is anything but. He craves for dominance from his masters, and becomes disgusted by them when they fail to assert an alpha status over him, an thus he plots to take over the alpha role. Baxter even goes so far as to view the neighborhood cat as his nemesis. He admires its independence and relishes the idea of the chance to kill it someday. Baxter is devious and shockingly introspective for a species so often depicted as simpleminded and dutiful.
But while Baxter succeeds in turning otherwise standard fare on its head with its darkly comedic, but still horrific, portrayals of these characters, it does have some weaknesses, specifically in terms of pacing and lot development. While the film is divided squarely into three acts, it spends much of the first two acts bouncing between Baxter and the young boy. By the time they finally meet, it leaves the third act with a decidedly uneven feel. Baxter counters by inserting a fairly unbelievable love interest for the boy, only to drop it at the first moment of convenience. This is merely the most obvious of a few late stumbles for an otherwise impressive film.
Baxter is not an easy film to watch, and in spite of a few glitches, it still manages to force the viewer to invest themselves in the characters, no matter how monstrous they might appear. For these characters are far more developed and fascinating then you are bound to find in your typical film, and just when you think you have them figured out, they will add yet another layer of intrigue that is shockingly impossible to resist.