MovieChat Forums > Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) Discussion > Screenwriter Penelope Killed Off Dog -- ...

Screenwriter Penelope Killed Off Dog -- For What Purpose ?


The screenplay of the film is brilliant. Screenwriter Penelope Gilliatt (spelling ?) must have had a good reason for killing off the dog during the scenes in Hyde Park in London. Any ideas ?

My guess is that you have to factor in the scenes that follow the ugly Hyde Park collision. Remember that later the same day Alex and Bob and the kids are engaged in drawing pictures of their day in the park. The message seems to be that Bob can handle the death of a relationship with his usual nonchalance. The collision is never referred to again in the movie, and obviously Dr. Hirsch knows nothing about it, so why would HE care ?

Based on that reasoning, I would say that we have a love triangle, and two of the "sides" show they can handle an unwelcome jolt very well, leading one "side" to assume coldly that the other two could handle his permanent disappearance very well. The flaw in Bob's reasoning is that relations between household pets and masters are very different from interpersonal relationships. Owning more than one dog, as do the friends who hire Alex and Bob to babysit the kids, is very similar to owning just one dog. But a human twosome is very, very different from a human threesome. And threesomes rarely last for more than a decade.

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Maybe the death of the dog, which was one of three (?) dogs that belonged to the children, suggests that "something's got to give" in the human triangle of Glenda Jackson, Murray Head and Peter Finch.

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In life, a death can occur ran domly at any time without any a priori symbolic meaning.

In art, particularly narrative art, showing death may have symbolic meaning or it may just be an example of a random event that the characters in the story will then have to react to.

Of course, if one wished one could argue that such a death symbolizes random fate.

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I agree with other views that Sunday is a beautifully made, acted and written film. It also happens to be one of my all-time favourites, and clearly represents the collaboration between a gay man and a straight woman, as represented in the narrative: (we can read Hirsch as Schlesinger, and Greville as Gilliat).

The death of the family pet, Kinyata, serves to show how tragedy can just happen unexpectedly, but also reveals just how Alex deals with crises, in her careful handling of the children, and full involvement, yet who later shows evident guilt ands delayed shock knowing it could just as easily have been Lucy who was killed. Watching her and Bob function briefly as a hetero family unit, it's not difficult to understand what she sees in him, in his further practical nature (removing the corpse from the road; involving the Hodson children in expressing their feelings about the dog through art etc.). However his coldness soon afterwards (he appears isolated from the incident: and draws a pound sign over and over again as Alex sleeps) suggests his love, not so much for himself as for his career: his inability to commit. It stands as an unfortunate incident in Alex and Bob's weekend together, kiddie sitting, and seemingly also foreshadows the death of their relationship.

Kinyata's death is comparable surely, to Daniel's cocktail party, which ends being spoilt by a drunken, bickering married couple, and in which Daniel has to take charge, for instance. Or the varying ways Daniel treats his patients, by listening, and offering advice and showing concern. Both incidents reveal another side to both Alex and Daniel, so that we understand them more in depth, their willingness to see situations through until they become unbearable or impossible: in the same way they approach their relationship to Bob, who, from the opening scene, is clearly more concerned with his burgeoning career. Daniel and Alex are evidently more devoted to their lover than he to them: (the amusing scene in which both drive past his house late one night, driving past one another, incomprehendingly, whilst he is otherwise preoccupied, clearly indicates this).

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BTW, the dog was clearly named after Jomo Kenyatta, rebel and leader of Kenya, by the politically-correct family Alex and Bob are child-sitting for.

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As I suggest in another thread ("What it's really about"), I think that the death of the dog is just one of several side stories--including Daniel's patient at the beginning, Daniel's car-crash victim (he talks with her parents), the kids' acceptance of their mother's affair, the junkies eking out a sort of life, Alex's client trying to get jobs--resonating with the main theme: it's bad, but it's not the end of the world, and you will survive it--perhaps not as happy as you'd like, but (in the words of the guy in _Waitress_) happy enough.

(I also agree with the point that the incident with the dog shows us some things about the personalities and styles of Bob and Alex.) --Howard

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In the MGM edition I have of the film, there's no indication that Alma is having an affair with the academic Dr, although I know this was intended in an earlier version of Penelope Gilliat's screenplay..... has there been a director's cut of the film I'm unaware of? Which scene/s indicate Alma's emotional involvement, and how do her nightmarish brood find out?

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I don't have my DVD of the film right at hand, but my memory is that one of the kids tells Alex something like "Mommy's sleeping with Dr. [Whoever]"--I don't remember whether it's before or after "That's Mommy's milk." Cheers, --H

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If you receive an alert from my reply and have time to post, I'd be grateful. I just rewatched the 1st 30 or so minutes (well, all the scenes at the Hodson house) with Eng. subtitles on to make sure I didn't miss anything, and I still didn't see a reference to Alva's having an affair. ? Thanks.

"All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people."

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Well, as I say, I haven't seen the film in a while, but I'm pretty sure that one or another of the precocious kids says something like "Mommy's sleeping with Dr. <whoever--the house guest>." I don't think that it's the same scene as "That's Mommy's milk!" I apologize if I'm wrong and sent you on a wild-goose chase. Sometime I have to get a copy of the film myself, instead of relying on the library.

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I apologize for the delay in replying again, but I wanted to do some research first.

It's really weird: I distinctly remember Lucy's telling Alex something like, "Mommy's sleeping with Professor Johns." Furthermore, Penelope Gilliatt's essay on the film (http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2524-making-sunday-bloody-sunday), also to be found in the booklet for The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray (my library's copy has some pages of Ian Buruma's essay repeated, and some of Gilliatt's missing) and in the published Original Screenplay, states: "...The real mother [of the Hampstead family, i.e. Alva], well-intentioned and ill-tuned, is having an awkward affair with an African, with such woodland joy that her husband is not allowed to be wounded."

However: I read the published Original Screenplay, and I watched the Blu-Ray, and I did not find that scene that I remember. Was it cut? Would The Criterion Collection" have dared to issue an incomplete version? Did I just miss it in the screenplay and film? I have no idea. Anyone else have any memories or information to add?

I will post again if I find out more. Cheers, --Howard

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I hate when animals are killed off in films.
What about when people are being killed off?

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I always took it to show how the little girl for all her precociousness is suddenly revealed to still be a vulnerable child as soon as something out of her control happens, which applies to the whole world the prvileged and outwardly happy people occupy.

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I absolutely agree that this is an important aspect of that scene. The kids have been having a very permissive life--smoking pot, running around, making noise. Lucy has in fact been acting quite responsibly--taking care of the infant, for instance--but her momentary irresponsibility with Kenyatta has been a short sharp shock, an introduction to responsibility and adulthood, a recognition that all actions have potentially terrible consequences.

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"threesomes rarely last for more than a decade"

Citation needed.

But if true, this isn't necessarily due to the nature of trios. Given the lack of social and legal support for threesomes (and much outright opposition) they are certainly under more stress than straight pairs, and that pressure can cause them to fall apart. Given similar conditions, gay people ("very, very different from" straight people) were in far fewer long-term same-sex relationships than we are today.

And we have to compare apples to apples. A person may leave a relationship for a number of reasons, some of which aren't even about the relationship itself. And when a person leaves a couple, that's it. It's over. But when just one person leaves a larger group like a trio, it's reduced the size of the group but the smaller group can still persist and may grow back to its original size (a bit like a salamander regrowing its tail ... it's the same salamander). This option isn't available to couples. Perhaps a good measure to use for comparison would be when at least half the original members of the group are no longer in it. For a trio, that would mean all three people going their separate ways, as in this film.

Nevertheless, fundamentalist religion has created threesomes (and more) that last longer. (This shouldn't be read as support for religion, fundamentalist or otherwise)

Last, given that at least half of all marriages fail, it seems fairly likely that many marriages don't make it to a decade either, not so different from threesomes after all.

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...but no problem with people, huh? Nice morals and value system you have there. Or should your neglect to mention people NOT be interpreted as culpability?

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McQueen said he hated animals being regarded as expendable. Never mentioned a word about human deaths. Human deaths were not part of this discussion up until now. What's he supposed to say? I hate when all living things meet with their death? It's not right to conclude his values and morals are low from that statement alone.

Most of the time human beings are responsible for their own actions. Like crossing a busy street. We have the knowhow and the dangers involved in recklessness. We created this urban environment and made our pets part of it. In a way we are responsible for deaths like these. From where I come from, people don't bat an eyelid when they move past a dead dog or cat knocked over by a vehicle. So I can appreciate comments like the one made by McQueen.


A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.

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I think the Dog incident was the only time we see Bob being responsible & taking care of others. He takes command of the situation & reassures Alex & the children that he will handle things & sends them home.

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