A few years ago, I had a conversation over drinks with a good girl friend of mine about raising children. Though we knew nothing would come of it, we thought it would be perversely funny if we would have kids, shelter them, home school these children, teaching them that right is left, down is up, red is green and so on. When the children grew to be 18, we would set the children free into the world and follow them around with a camera crew. I think we were going to call it THE REALSY REAL WORLD FOR REAL, or something like that. We laughed and then we moved onto another perverse and drunken topic of discussion. Yes, I know this is a sick joke. Yes, I know the likelihood that the sheltered 18 year olds’ survival in the real world would likely be a very short time. Yes, I know my friend and I are sick fucks. But guess what? Someone over in Greece made a movie about just that.
DOGTOOTH is perverse, surreal, and sick. It’s also a fascinating sociological experiment, a sharp commentary on the delicate structure of family, and a biting satire on our reliance on language and how influential culture is on the development of ourselves as modern humans. Acted with a deadpan stiffness fans of David Lynch films will recognize, from frame one and filmed with the same almost documentary feel, as if the camera is just happening to catch all of this weirdness unfolding, DOGTOOTH is a film you will never forget once you experience it. Part of DOGTOOTH’s charm is that, despite the perversion that’s going on, the characters are extremely endearing. The unnamed family (they are listed as Father, Mother, Son, Older Daughter, & Younger Daughter) live by a strict set of rules. Father announces his guidelines with the tone of a drill sergeant. Yes, the fact is, Father is one messed up individual, but at first, the family seems to be functioning pretty well under his twisted guidance. The children, although completely misguided, are happy competing for achievement stickers in bizarre competitions such as seeing who can hold their finger under water the longest or who can catch an airplane which they believe will fall from the sky first. This is one weird household. Just check out dance night at the Dogtooth place.
Though director Giorgos Lanthimos offers little insight into the thoughts and motivations of Father and Mother and why they have chosen to raise their children in such a manner, he does offer glimpses of humanity, especially in an extremely effective and surprisingly touching subtitled exchange between the parents who mouth the words silently in the kitchen while the children sleep in their rooms. No one should watch DOGTOOTH for parenting tips, but it is a fascinating examination of how families work. Given the batshit crazy conditions the family grows up in, they strive and love and have arguments and combat challenges together. Seeing the family band together the way they do in the end is all at once insane, hilarious, and heart wrenching.
As an examination of how language is such an important part of our everyday lives, DOGTOOTH offers a brilliant glimpse of how important our perception of words are and how easily they can be changed in a controlled environment. Mother’s constant check ins with Father to make sure they have their definitions and stories straight is so utterly ridiculous, but more evidence to support the cultural structure the parents work so hard to maintain. In order to protect them, words that do not fit into the careful structure are quickly redefined by Father and Mother and absorbed by the sponge-like curiosity of the children. Seeing that structure crumble as the outside world begins to invade and corrupt this delicate balance the parents have worked so hard to erect kept me riveted to the seat’s edge, wondering how it will all end. And the ending, although ambiguous, is utterly satisfying in it’s banal curiosity.
A lot of the attention to this film I’ve read focuses on the sexual perversions of the story. Yes, it’s pretty damn gross. Father brings in a worker at his job to sexually satisfy his son and when that proves to be problematic, he resorts to candidates closer to home which is bound to cause a squirm or two. But to me, the sexual aspects of this film were the least fascinating. For me, DOGTOOTH works looked at in a broader sense, examining the terrifying lengths all parents go to protect their children from being corrupted by the world around them. Though this isn’t a film that one would automatically lump into the horror genre, it definitely fits with it’s perversion of the spoken word, dysfunctional familial interaction, and especially with its heart twisting and gut churning ending. I loved that this film made me so conflicted while watching it. I felt sorry for this family to have to endure the craziness the parents put them through, but also was rooting for them to survive in the end. DOGTOOTH doesn’t provide a pretty picture or easy answers, but it will forever leave a scar in your heart and definitely inspire much debate after watching. Once you’ve seen DOGTOOTH, you’ll never be the same.