#244 – Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

From 199,265 votes, Dog Day Afternoon has an 8.0/10 rating from the users of IMDb.

A man robs a bank to pay for his lover’s operation; it turns into a hostage situation and a media circus.
Dog Day Afternoon is quite possibly the quintessential bank robbery movie with many tropes put to effect that can be recognised in any number of hostage situations within media today. From the “bring us pizza” to the “this man has asthma!” this film was iconic in how it is the genesis of some of today’s most recognisable film clichés. But more than that it is in its own right a fantastic movie that in some ways is totally ahead of its time.
The movie stars Al Pacino as Sonny, the lead robber who is robbing the bank to accrue $2500 to pay for his lover’s gender-reassignment operation. All would have gone well if not for the fact that the bank didn’t even have $2500 in its vault. One thing leads to another and the movie turns into a drawn out hostage situation with both tense and lighthearted moments. There’s one moment where, once the situation is on the news, a pervert calls in and asks Sonny if he’s ‘done anything’ to the women he has hostage. Two of the women in question are handed the phone and start turning the tables by humorously breathing heavily down the phone, much to the pervert’s chagrin.
Something the movie does wonderfully is make you empathetic to Sonny’s cause. He’s not doing this out of greed for financial gain, but for the wellbeing of his lover, Leon. We later meet Leon, and her story is a rough one to listen to but surprisingly for the time this movie was made, it is a real story that is taken seriously (perhaps not by every character in the movie, but by the movie itself). It is something to behold, the dichotomy between the sympathetic and unsympathetic reactions to the plight of the queer couple’s story within the film.
The charm of the movie is in how organised yet bumbling the two robbers are. Seeing Sonny fumble with his package at the start of the movie is something hilarious for something that ends so threateningly. His genuine care for the wellbeing of his hostages makes you think he might not have even bothered to load the guns. He’s an extraordinarily sympathetic character for a man robbing a bank and disrupting the lives of multiple people to a huge degree.
In terms of enjoyability, this is a good movie. It’s really fun and the fact that it’s based on true events to a pretty close degree makes it even cooler. Go watch it if you have 2 hours to spare to see some cinematic history.
FUN FACT: The original, real-life heist was based on The Godfather, which the robber saw the day of the heist. Al Pacino, from The Godfather, plays the leader of the heist. Funny, that!
Well, this movie was about hostages, let’s look at phenomenon said to occur within long-term hostages: Stockholm Syndrome. I’ll have a little attempt at summarising an article about Stockholm syndrome that seeks to discuss whether it is a psychiatric diagnosis worth making. Stockholm syndrome is the development of a positive bond between the captor and the hostage which is thought to perhaps be a defence mechanism allowing a kidnapped individual to sympathise with their captor, limiting aggression and ensuring survival. The terms ‘terror bonding’ and ‘traumatic bonding’ have also been used.
Stockholm syndrome itself is not recognised in any international classification system, but the ICD-10 for example does have ‘Acute stress reaction’ which includes ‘transient disorders’ as a result and is probably the closest official category we have in which to sort Stockholm syndrome as we understand it in a pop culture and academic context.
In this review of Stockholm syndrome studies, the following findings were discussed.
  • Stockholm syndrome is an indicator of the severity of the situation.
  • Friendly hostage behaviour creates a friendly demeanour in the terrorist.
  • Children are particularly susceptible to Stockholm syndrome behaviour and this may be a factor in the under-reporting of childhood sexual abuse.
  • The mislabelling of strong fear as ‘love’ may convince the captor that they have hope of escape, and be a defence mechanism. The creation of this ‘pseudo identity’ is a direct result of extraordinary stress.
  • Development of Stockholm syndrome correlates with the level of treatment by captors. Abuse discourages Stockholm syndrome.

A syndrome is a ‘a combination of signs and ⁄or symptoms that form a distinct clinical picture indicative of a particular disorder’. Taking this definition into account, it is unclear whether Stockholm syndrome should be considered a psychiatric diagnosis worthy of international classification, or simply a term used to describe the collective experiences of those unfortunate enough to be held captive for extended periods of time. Clinical research implies that there are standard patterns of behaviour in these situations, but does little to establish predictors or precipitants.

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