Inspired by the upcoming Bruce Willis action/comedy(?) Once Upon A Time In Venice, John McDermott from MEL wrote up a detailed history of a character almost as old as the story itself: the dog-owning antihero. If you’re a fan of brooding action movies, this is likely an archetype you’re familiar with. He’s emotionally damaged, knows how to kick ass, and keeps other human beings at a certain, controlled distance. But, he also has a dog, and damn it, does he love that dog. In fact, his love for the dog is the only cue to the audience that not all is lost for this guy. He has some room for love left in his cold, broken heart, and that love is all for his canine companion.
The dog-owning antihero can be seen in everything from The Road Warrior to The Odyssey to John Wick. In some cases, he doesn’t even own a dog, but instead forms an emotional bond with another pet or animal. Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key satirize this trope in Keanu, where the two main characters go through hell to rescue an adorable kitten, an animal that no true antihero would be caught dead caring about.
Which brings us to the article’s overall point: The dog-owning antihero is a masculine version of the well-trod “crazy cat lady” archetype. According to McDermott, “the main difference is the Crazy Cat Lady is often portrayed as a sad, old spinster who never found a good man to give her children… while the Dog-Owning Antihero is just a misunderstood loner too consumed with his duties to be bogged down by a relationship.” The male antihero still gets to be a hero while the cat lady is, at best, a punch line.
Perhaps the most damaging thing about this recurring, beloved character is that it makes being a duty-bound and emotionally vacant man something to aspire to. The crazy cat lady is a mocked nuisance because she has failed to make a meaningful connection with another human being, while the dog-owning antihero is celebrated for his identical failings. As McDermott succinctly puts it, “Classic patriarchy!”