Before you get upset: No, that headline isn’t a spoiler! There is no dog-eating in The Mountain Between Us, the new survival romance where Idris Elba and Kate Winslet crash on a snow-capped mountain and then must struggle to survive — in a sexy way — while they make their way back to civilization. Alongside them during their journey is a dog who also survives that plane crash and, fortunately, at no point do they break out the forks and knives for their loyal canine companion.
But what this article presupposes is … maybe they should have?
Now, I, Kyle Buchanan, would never eat a dog nor propose that Kate Winslet do so. (Just think of the disappointed email she’d get from Shailene!) But in a recent social-media conversation about the film, Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson was ardent — that dog had to go — and I was shocked by how many colleagues concurred on the canine-eating. So, in an effort to leave no snowy, sexy stone unturned on that mountain, I’ve summoned Richard here to debate this hot topic.
Kyle Buchanan: Richard, we’ve both seen The Mountain Between Us. The movie inspires two big questions: Will they bone on that mountain, and will the dog live? You’ve answered the first question, and a spoiler-heavy ad campaign has taken care of the second, assuring concerned audiences that there will be no dog murder here. But I know you have a bone to pick with that decision. A bone you are not willing to throw for that dog to fetch, because you think Idris and Kate should have eaten him.
Richard Lawson: Kyle, I never thought I would say this, but Kate Winslet and Idris Elba should have eaten that dog. It’s not something I take lightly, the eating of an adorable yellow Lab. But look, they were starving, stranded, and running dangerously low on mountain lion meat. (That they had that mountain lion meat at all was something of a happy accident.) Not only were they starving, but presumably the dog was consuming some of their precious few resources! So they would have killed two dogs with one stone had they eaten Dog (he doesn’t get a name until the end) — eliminating a drain on their rations while providing themselves with more rations! I know this is a harsh, unpopular stand to take. But a Winslet cannot live by longing looks from Idris Elba alone. Sometimes you gotta eat the dog.
Kyle Buchanan: Much as I would have liked a sequence where a delirious Kate Winslet imagines a succulent chicken dinner superimposed over Idris Elba’s face, the movie never really pushes down hard on the “they’re starving to death” pedal. Starving is not that sexy and kind of incompatible with mountain romance! And we do get a scene where it’s implied that maybe Dog is catching rabbits on his own, so I was chill with it.
I have to say, Fox screened the first 20 minutes of this film for me a few months ago, and that section literally ends with a mountain lion attacking the dog offscreen — you just hear the whimpers as Kate cowers in the wreckage of the plane, knowing the lion will come for her next. And when the lights came up, I was pissed! I was like, “I’m not gonna see the rest of this movie if a dog dies, nuh-uh.” You can kill off Beau Bridges, but don’t you dare touch a hair of that good boy’s coat! Thank God a quick perusal of the trailer told me the dog would survive for later scenes … though I presume you, a remorseless monster, had no such qualms and found yourself on Team Mountain Lion?
Richard Lawson: For me, the hierarchy is Winslet-Elba first, then Dog, then mountain lion. So if a mountain lion is in the mix, I am on team Winslet-Elba and Dog. But if you take the mountain lion away … Well, sorry, Dog.
But you’re right that none of the peril in the movie really feels all that dire, including the food situation. Sure, the plane crash scene is terrifying — it’s one of the most believable, and thus scariest, plane crash scenes I’ve seen in a long time — and that mountain lion bit had me covering my eyes. But for the most part The Mountain Between Us feels much more like a “how” movie than an “if” movie, when it comes to survival. A part of that how, if the movie were a more brutal affair, would likely be Kate and Idris poaching some pooch. But this is not a brutal movie. It’s an old-fashioned adventure-romance, and you don’t eat the dog in that. I understand why it doesn’t happen from a likability and marketability standpoint, but I was still frustrated that the characters were so self-sabotaging out of pure sentimentalism. I guess that’s a good indication that I was invested in the film, that I could feel annoyed with their choices like that.
Kyle Buchanan: I think they needed that dog around as an ice-breaker (no pun intended). With the romantic tension continually building between them, the dog provided an uninvested third party. Although I did spend a lot of time thinking about what they would have done if the dog were a different size. They were lucky this particular dog was large enough to romp through a foot and a half of floofy snow alongside them, but what if it had been a little terrier or Chihuahua? What then?
Oh. I guess Idris would have had to carry the pup in his winter coat. And I think a single shot of that in the ad campaign might have made the movie tens of millions more. See what a dog can do, Richard?
Richard Lawson: I guess the only other solution would have been to, I dunno, yell “Help” a few more times than they did. Another thing that annoyed me about this perfectly likable — and decidedly dog-friendly — movie.