Max. Dir. Boaz Yakin. Warner Bros. 2015.

Max. Dir. Boaz Yakin. Warner Bros. 2015.

Max. Dir. Boaz Yakin. Warner Bros. 2015. 150 150 Madison Yeats

Max follows the journey of a fallen Marine, Kyle, and his dog, Max, who is brought to his hometown in Lufkin, Texas following his death. Military dog relationships are usually inseparable; Kyle’s death devastated Max resulting in being unresponsive to any new Marine handler and was forced to either be put down, or taken in by Kyle’s family. Given the situation, Kyle’s family visited Max following their first impression of his grieving dog completely lost with himself and showing an interest in Justin, Kyle’s younger brother. The main story of Max truly starts when the family visits the training facility to visit Max. Justin, reluctantly adopts the dog despite his parents’ enthusiasm to hold onto anything that would connect them to their recently deceased oldest son. The film follows the journey of Max’s recovery of PTSD and the new life he leads outside of the military with Justin and his friends. Justin and Max learn from each other and create an unbreakable bond that aids, protects, and teaches new things to both of them. Max touches on important key topics such as: family, loyalty, and friendship.

Family can be an Adventure

The story of Max is a heavy topic –  war in Afghanistan, Marine dies and his dog partner attempts to recover from PTSD while bonding with his younger brother and stopping an arms dealer who was a fellow Marine. However, Max keeps the adventure and action filled plot as Marine-trained military dog, Max, struggles with the loss of his owner and continues to serve, for the greater good while still providing light moments of slapstick and playful banter. Typically, action, adventure, and war or military films often include a sentimental side story to increase character development and promote empathy. This can be done by adding a romantic flair, a strong family connection, or in Max’s case – a journey of a deep animal bond. Like many other family films, internal and external struggles are both present for the protagonist and his close allies. Children and Family films generally have implicit moments and topics that many young children may not pick up on while providing a fun and easy storyline with points of humor in it following a journey [1]. The boyhood journey is generally a popular main topic within this genre because of the easy connectivity of many ages.

Animal Presence

From the very start of the film it is clear that Max has a strong bond with Kyle. In the United States, K-9 units are highly recognized along with the military in general and known for their strong bonds with their handlers. Many military animals are treated with the same respect as any other human veteran, and sometimes placed on a pedestal in comparison to humans because of the important role that they play [2]. The war in Afghanistan has taken advantage of this role and have had many American soldiers’ lives sparred with the help of these war dogs. It has become common culture in America to observe “coming home” and “military dog mourning handler who died in combat” videos and has grown in popularity since the age of the internet. Because of this, more awareness has been brought to military dogs and the effects of war and death that is presented to them. This increased popularity and importance of military dogs in the US Army and Marines has strengthened the meaning of “man’s best friend” in America. To complete this image, home videos of iconic scenes of Marines and other military personal with their dogs that makes the story more realistic. This only strengthens the final scene of Max finally belonging in his new home as the camera pans out leaving the image of Max and Justin embracing.

Upon Kyle’s death and events following, Max is unwilling to be handled by anyone or to let Kyle be further injured. This continues until at the funeral, Max finds a connection with Justin immediately and the family adopts Max to avoid him being put down. The obvious connection between the troubled teen and the war dog suffering from PTSD is what drives the film. Similar to other child-dog bond movies, the film progresses in such a way that you grow immediately attached to the dog and continue to grow more attached as you watch the relationship blossom into an inseparable bond of trust and friendship. The connection they share is kindled by the mutual experience of trauma. Since Kyle was a close figure to both – an older brother and a true companion – they have a difficult time opening up to each other at first. This unfortunate event is what brings them closer to change each other’s lives for the better. This enhances the idea that the child and dog relationship is not only strong, but can only result in good things. It is common to see this relationship used to captivate the audience, since many people can relate to this specific type of relationship.

Dogs have been utilized in the military since World War II in the United States [3]. They have always been associated with humans and long term companions, but up until 1942, Germany supported the largest amount of military dog operations [4].  The film creates an accurate depiction of the timeline military dogs go through before, during, after being deployed and matched with a handler. The dogs are highly respected just as any Veteran would be treated following a tragic mission deployed however, if the dog is unresponsive and unwilling after attempts of re-assigning a handler, the dogs are euthanized [5]. Max was on his last efforts to be saved when Justin and his family took him in. There are conflicting interests throughout the film on the respect towards the military dogs. Beginning with the euthanasia, if the dogs who suffer from trauma cannot cooperate with other handlers. They create war dog memorials for all service animals and have extravagant funerals and memorial services for the animals. Therefore, if the gallant war dog does not comply with want the military trainers need or want, they are deemed not good enough and put down. Ironically, humans in the same state of mind are treated in mental facilities and such; these dogs and animals receive the same rights and respects if fallen in battle or if they are to return successfully without complications. This is one of the many controversies that surrounds the whole idea of military service animals regarding the hypocrisy given towards them.

Representation of Animals

While Max presented a well thought out storyline, it touched on a very important cultural topic within the United States; the treatment of its veterans return from deployment and other events. In addition to that, it provides a more family friendly format for this topic, using a heartfelt story of a boy and his new found friend, Max the dog, to discover trust and family values. Their journey is what makes the story so approachable to audiences and filmmakers; it’s a popular subject and occasionally overdone. To avoid another cookie cutter plot of boy and dog attachment, Yakin combines the two popular ideas to create a masterpiece. Everyone loves a good story about a boy from Texas helping his deceased, Purple Heart, brother’s trained solider dog overcome PTSD. Military and “man’s best friend” – together they create an imaginative story that is relatable to many situations in the United States.

In reality, the story of Max is relatable and can be loved by everyone. The connection that Justin and Max have with each other exemplifies innumerable similar relationships that continue to have a strong presence across the United States. Dogs will always be a central part of family culture and popular pastime activities; humans will continue to utilize these friendly furry friends for love, service, and physical aid. Until war is eradicated, the importance of military appreciation will continue to uphold the high standard that it has today. Marines and Army soldiers will continue to take advantage of dogs and other animals strengths that are outside the reach of any human’s capacity and will return their loyalty and companionship as a reward.

Personal Reflection

Dogs are a central attraction in many families, stories, and cultures across the world; they represent a number of characteristics such as loyalty, companionship, and best friends. Max illustrates a cultural twist to “man’s best friend” specific to the United States and its values surrounding dogs and their importance in the American household. These values that dogs hold and demonstrate is parallel to many military and family values. America has always been overly proud of its military achievements and everyone involved. It has become a cultural norm and been a central topic in current films distributed in recent years. Films such as, American Sniper (2014), Unbroken (2014), and Act of Valor (2012) have experienced increased popularity since the 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan. Even though the plot is not centered around an animal character, they paved a road of Hollywood pro American military propaganda. Max, however, makes itself unique by telling the story of a discharged Marine War Dog and his determination to help fight crime after his military days were complete. It creates a charming affect that anyone can enjoy.

Further Reading

War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History and Love – Rebecca Frankel

Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog – Mike Dowling

Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. – Boaz Yakin, Sheldon Lettich

U.S. Military Working Dog Training Handbook – United States Department of Defense

Bibliography

Dirks, Tim. Adventure FIlms. n.d. 10 January 2016. http://www.filmsite.org/adventurefilms.html.

Children-Kids Family FIlms. n.d. 10 January 2016. http://www.filmsite.org/adventurefilms.html.

English, SSgt Tracy L. History of War Dogs. 15 December 2000. 10 January 2016. http://www.uswardogs.org/PDF/History-of-MWD.pdf.

Frankel, Rebecca. The tale of a Marine and his war dog torn apart by death. with Margaret Warner. PBS. 23 December 2014. 10 January 2016. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/afghanistan-tale-american-war-dog-marine-handler-torn-apart-death.

Max. 2015. 10 January 2016. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3369806.

Max. Dir. Boaz Yakin. Warner Bros., 2015. 10 January 2016.


[1] Dirks, Tim. Children-Kids Family FIlms.

[2] F rankel, Rebecca. The tale of a Marine and his war dog torn apart by death. with Margaret Warner. PBS.

[3] English, SSgt Tracy L. History of War Dogs.

[4] English, SSgt Tracy L. History of War Dogs.

[5] Max. Dir. Boaz Yakin.