The film is set in the South in the late 1950′s in rural Alabama. Lewellen is a very precocious free spirit romping thru the wilderness. She lives in an environment that could crush her spirit. But she’s found music. She’s actually found Elvis. It’s the place she can go to express all of the pain and the rage in her life, as well as the joy and love. It’s her safe haven to express herself. Along the journey there are a lot of twists and turns that lead to the silencing of her voice and that eventually lead her out of that silence to find her true voice. In the end, instead of Elvis, it is her own voice that she connects to. With that connection to her true voice she has the power to turn and walk away from the dysfunctional environment she’s been trapped in and move into a new life.
For me the film is about a lot of things…motherlessness, consciousness…bringing what’s in darkness into light, healing, art, female sexuality, finding ones true voice and hope. But I think for me whats most important is the idea of taking that which can poison you and turning it into something powerful and good. Which is what we, as artists are lucky enough to sometime get to do. It’s what Lewellen, played brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, is able to do.
A provocative Southern tale set in rural Alabama in the late 1950s, HOUNDDOG is the story of a spirited young girl LEWELLEN (Dakota Fanning) and her struggle to rise above the repression that surrounds her.
Lewellen lives with her stern religious zealot grandmother, GRAMMIE (Piper Laurie), but spends most of her time down the hill with her much-adored DADDY (David Morse) in his falling down shack. Daddy is wild and rough and brings home a beautiful but troubled woman (Robin Wright Penn) who has a mysterious history with him and comes and goes when his drink and abuse becomes too much for her. But while she’s around, Lewellen’s longing heart reaches for her love.
Lewellen is deeply talented and finds comfort and safety, as well as a place to put her hurt and rage, in the music of Elvis Presley, even though CHARLES (Afemo Omilami), the wise groundskeeper of the mansion down the road, tries to convince her that there is more to fill the emptiness than Elvis. Charles teaches Lewellen about snake medicine and imparts his wisdom that “you gotta always make good outta what can poison ya.”
Lewellen and her closest friend, BUDDY (Cody Hanford), spend their days playing in the woods and swimming in the local river. While caught in a shed during a heavy rainstorm, her Daddy is struck by lightning while driving his tractor and the event leaves him incapacitated, an emotional and mental child.
Lewellen becomes Daddy’s caretaker and their dysfunctional relationship becomes even more pronounced with Lewellen becoming the parent and Daddy the child. Without any parental guidance, Lewellen begins to move into dangerous terrain.
When Elvis Presley comes to town for a concert, Lewellen is desperate to go but has no money for a ticket. Buddy, trying to get her a ticket, arranges for her to do her Elvis impersonation for a local teenager in exchange for tickets to the concert. During the impersonation, the teenager attacks Lewellen and steals her innocence.
The attack leaves Lewellen feeling more alone and hopeless than ever. It is only Charles who can see the spirit in Lewellen and save her soul. He teaches her to use music, the Blues, to turn her tragedy into a gift. Lewellen ultimately finds her true voice, giving her the strength and courage to walk away from from her past and into her future.