What Is A Reservoir Dog?

“You Shoot Me In A Dream, You Better Wake Up And Apologize.” – Mr. White

Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 American crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino in his feature-length debut. The question here is exactly what is a “reservoir dog”. There is not one answer to this question. Many people have spent the last 20-plus years trying to figure it out. Some believe that Tarantino will never reveal where he derived the title.

One theory is that “Reservoir” represents the French New Wave crime films and “Dogs” is from “Straw Dogs”, the violent Sam Peckinpah movie. The French art film movement emerged in the late 1950s and was characterized by its rejection of traditional filmmaking conventions in favor of experimentation and a spirit of iconoclasm. Straw Dogs is a 1971 psychological thriller film.

It’s more of a mood title than anything else. It’s just the right title, don’t ask me why. It’s just a perfect title for those guys, they are reservoir dogs, whatever the hell that means.

Quentin Tarantino

It starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George and is based upon Gordon M. Williams’s 1969 novel, “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm”. The film’s title derives from a discussion in the Tao Te Ching that likens people to the ancient Chinese ceremonial straw dog, being of ceremonial worth, but afterward discarded with indifference. One popular and oft-told story about the origin of the title is that former video store employee Tarantino used to mangle the title of the French film Louis Malle’s “Au revoir les enfants[1]“, and his mispronunciation gave birth to the phrase “Reservoir dogs.”

Lawrence Tierney (who plays Joe Cabot in the movie “Reservoir Dogs”) reportedly told a German reporter that “reservoir dogs” was “a very famous expression in America for dogs who hang around a reservoir. Understanding “reservoir” as a “container”, and “dogs” as slang for “criminals”, then the title of the movie would literally refer to a “container of criminals”.

This explanation fits with the origin Tarantino initially shared, in which he said he got the title while visiting a production company where they had a pile of unsolicited scripts labeled as “reservoir dogs”, as all of them were “fighting with each other for attention as dogs trapped in a reservoir tank”. Tarantino later changed the story to something completely different, hence why there’s no concrete explanation. One theory is that “reservoir dog” is a slang word for a rat. The movie’s all about a job gone awry thanks to the infiltrator, Mr. Orange. Rats are particularly large in reservoirs, which is why they’re called reservoir dogs.

Some fans believe that “dogs” stands for a gangster term for “rat”, connecting with the fact that there was a snitch within the group. [SPOILER] Near the end of the movie, the survivors come to a dramatic conclusion, one of them is a snitch or a cop. The title is actually a very good title, a reservoir is something that holds stuff inside (none get out) and dogs (criminals) see the diamond as a bone. (From Stack Exchange)

  1. Au revoir les enfants (meaning “Goodbye, Children”) is an autobiographical 1987 film written, produced, and directed by Louis Malle. It is based on the actions of Père Jacques, a French priest, and headmaster who attempted to shelter Jewish children during the Holocaust. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. [Back]

Further Reading


Screen Crush
The Quentin Tarantino Archives
Screen Rant
Stack Exchange
Urban Dictionary

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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