Dog Day Afternoon: Pacino, Pride, PTSD

Intro by Brandon

People often say that truth is stranger than fiction, but honestly, when’s the last time you saw that? When I hear someone say that, I usually just assume that they don’t read a lot. But sometimes, life can surprise you—not necessarily with something shocking, but maybe just something unexpected. When details come up randomly with no concern for a coherent narrative, as they tend to in real life, you can end up with some pretty wild combinations. The sweet spot for strangeness, though, is fiction based on truth. That’s the best of both worlds. And it’s exactly what we’re looking at in this episode.

Today’s film, Dog Day Afternoon, is based on a true story of a bank robbery in the early 70s, and the random facts from the true story come together in a great narrative to tell a story that’s surprising, but also surprisingly real in some places—much more so than other heist movies you see. The film is a product of the events and concerns of the 70s, and as such loses some of its relevance to modern viewers, but this is still an entertaining film with a lot going on underneath the surface.

Being that this is pride month, we chose this film for its surprisingly modern depiction of a gay character. Even today, gay characters are expected to be gay first and characters second. They’re expected to think and act in particular ways, and this can be extremely limiting to their growth. Dog Day Afternoon gives us a strong character that just happens to be gay. That doesn’t dictate all of his mannerisms and choices. This character could have just as easily been not gay. The character’s individuality is what makes him, and this movie, ahead of its time.

There are other interesting ideas at play here, including PTSD resulting from the Vietnam War, and Stockholm Syndrome, making this a complex film with a complex cast of characters. All that, plus a bit of history on how the psychiatric world viewed gayness, is coming up in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health!

Show Summary

General/Intro

M: Overall, it took me a while to get in the film; I had to re-watch it a lot because I was confused, particularly about what Attica was and the tone of the time; this is a good film for 1975, for its time; the movie had a lot to say for being so low key and not focusing on key issues while actually focusing on those issues; it has a lot of layers

B: In my list of top ten favorite films; Al Pacino’s performance is phenomenal; the film holds its card close, not revealing what the underlying issues are; it was very entertaining the first time through; it starts out funny and gets more serious as we go; a lot of the scenes and dialogue are improvised yet this film won best screenplay

Likes

M: Al Pacino’s performance is phenomenal (and all the acting is great); the mood and tone of the film fits; the movie brings up LGBTQ issues without focusing on it (even though it seems like that’s the focus of the film); it is a movie of its time

B: Al Pacino’s performance is phenomenal (and all the acting is great); the movie does comedy and drama (both things) well; the movie doesn’t just make the characters “gay characters”—they are allowed to be characters first.

Dislikes

M: I would have enjoyed it way more if I saw it back in the 1970s or 1980s, because I didn’t get the era references (even with explanations); I felt like the director was intentionally confusing the audience for no real reason except to cause confusion, because we don’t need to be confused to feel the impact of the reveal.

B: Didn’t appreciate a lot of the history the first time around; the ending was a little slow and not as fun to watch as the beginning

Mental Health

M: Some women’s issues, too, because Sonny’s mom blames his problems on Sonny’s wife, hinting that makes him seek out satisfaction from a man; there’s also Stockholm syndrome—the hostages are very quickly relating to Sonny and “in it” together

B: Homosexuality was seen as a mental disorder and was recently de-classified as a mental disorder right before this film came out; Sonny could have PTSD from Vietnam War—he is a pacifist and seeks connection but cannot connect with people. PTSD wasn’t even labeled as a mental condition yet, but homosexuality was, so his sexuality may have been blamed for having issues. Also, when I’m depressed, I just want to take care of everyone, like Sonny…but I can’t and have trouble connecting with people.

Next Episode

It’s still pride month, so we’ll be covering the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show in our next episode!

Quotes

M: When I’m really depressed, I put myself at the bottom. And I’m going to take care of everybody else and make sure all their needs are met, but I don’t care about my needs, and I don’t take care of myself.

B: Gay characters [in film] have a lot of problems that Native American characters do, in that it’s never just a character—it has to be a gay character. Everything that person does has to be something a gay person would do, because there are expectations about that. Sonny’s sexuality doesn’t really come into play until halfway through the movie, and it didn’t really change a lot about his character, so he was just allowed to be a character first, and you still don’t see that in movies today.

B: When PTSD is not recognized or treated, but your sexuality is considered a mental disorder, that is a very lonely place to be. This is pride month. We’ve come a long way, but even today, being gay is a lonely place to be because you feel like you have to hide some of yourself. And we see some of this in Sonny—we see him try to reach out, we see him try to connect with others, and it just never works out.

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