“Gunther’s Millions” Is As Twisted and Shocking As You Want It to Be
You think Taylor Swift’s cat is rich? Meet Gunther.
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As Netflix continues to lap up award nominations and join other streamers in actively dismantling the filmgoing experience, there is at least one media genre the service has afforded a well-deserved boost: long-form documentaries. Be it through gripping true crime, such as Making a Murderer (2015-2018), the fraud-exposure of Bad Vegan (2022), or Tiger King (2020)’s pure spectacle, Netflix has been committed to keeping docuseries culturally relevant.
Its latest attempt at creating non-fictional buzz, the February 1 release Gunther’s Millions, is akin to dropping all three of these elements in a blender and then adding some expensive cologne before tossing on a spray tan.
A Quick Summary (better than a Netflix blurb)
Directed by Aurelien Leturgie, who also served as executive producer, Gunther’s Millions follows a German Shepherd named Gunther, who holds the title of “richest dog on the planet.” Speaking on his behalf are the members of the Gunther Group led by Maurizio Mian, Gunther’s legal caretaker. The story behind his fortune initially appears equal parts heartbreaking and sweet. Karlotta Liebenstein, a German countess who married a wealthy pharmaceutical company owner, had a life stricken with tragedy. After her husband passed, their son, also named Gunther, died by suicide at the age of 26, following a lifelong battle with depression.
Liebenstein had no living family and decided to entrust her entire $150 million fortune to her beloved pup named after her late son. Of course, a dog cannot manage an inheritance, so she named her friend and fellow animal lover, Gabriella Gentili, the official caretaker and manager of Gunther. Gentili, the president of her own pharmaceutical company, would eventually pass this duty on to her son, the eccentric Mian, who operates as the central figure of the series.
Don’t Worry: Gunther Is a Happily Spoiled Pup
Because this whole story has lasted longer than the average dog’s lifespan, it’s worth noting that there have been several Gunthers (don’t worry; the series will answer your many questions around that). The whole story started with Gunther III, and the current Gunther is Gunther VI. Unlike Netflix’s similar series Tiger King, it is clear the titular animal in this series is properly cared for. In fact, as early montages of Gunther being fed premium beef on fine china by his private chef played out on my screen, I received more than a few menacing scowls from my dog, who was watching between bites of far less appetizing kibble. But the admiration and worship toward Gunther is a guise of corrupted ambition on the part of his caretakers. The documentary is at its best when illustrating the façades these individuals create to maintain the dog’s affluence.
The earliest example of this is in the doc’s depiction of Mian and the Gunther Group’s creation of a ’90s pop group called The Burgundians. As part of this initiative, Mian selected five band members and bought them a mansion — previously owned by Madonna no less — in Miami to record a debut album. However, as the group unites, it quickly becomes clear none of the individuals have any talents beyond possessing strong jawlines and ripped abs — which in a sinister twist, was Mian’s precise intention.
The plot thickens as Mian, with permission from band members, hires a researcher to live in the house and set up cameras throughout to document the encounters. The result is nothing short of a cross between the Netflix series FBOY Island (2021-2022) and the Stanford Prison Experiment. To be clear, the researcher in question had zero medical training and no scientific background. That said, he wore a lab coat with determination, feeding heavily into the deception. When they were eventually pushed out by aggravated neighbors, Mian tried this horny Truman Show experiment again in his home city of Pisa — with new group members to achieve similar results.
I’ll leave more details and the final twist out, in case you are planning to curl up on the couch while you nurse a glass of red wine and your dog goes to town on a Kong full of peanut butter, wishing it were a prime rib.
Uh, Who’s the Main Subject Here, Exactly?
If there is one major criticism of Gunther’s Millions, it’s the filmmaker’s dedication to depict Mian as a sympathetic character. Shortly after detailing The Gunther Group’s successful fraud efforts, the doc delves into the truth behind Gunther’s lineage: Mian had hired a famed German Shepherd breeder in Vecchiano, Italy, to supply him with a constant stream of canine heirs. A warning for the viewer: The conditions at this facility were atrocious. At last, when the operation was heroically infiltrated by an animal rights group, over 50 dogs were discovered living in small quarters malnourished and neglected.
Rather than emphasizing or further exploring culpability, the series then quickly pivots back to Mian and his own struggles with depression. The framing here suggests that the story of the countess and her son’s suicide was perhaps a projection of Mian’s own internal battle. While this may true, and it seems important to state, mental illness does not excuse animal abuse. The final episode even ends with a rushed redemption arc of Mian planning a B.S. bid on a private island that he intends to set up as an animal sanctuary. As of this writing, there is no evidence supporting any legitimacy of this claim or purchase.
That being said, as a portrayal of the perils of generational wealth — such as a 20-minute segment of Mian purchasing a popular Italian soccer team and electing two pornstars as its presidents — Gunther’s Millions delivers. Plus, it acts as a fully realized representation of the concept of dogs as children. Personally, if I had a massive fortune, I’d gladly leave it all to my dog — at least then she might finally stop rolling her eyes when I don’t serve her dinner on fancy glassware.
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Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.