The Dark Side of Cinema: Episode Three: Dogtooth
Greek filmmaker Giorgos Lanthimos’ most well-known and best received movie is arguably the controversial, complex 2009 film Dogtooth. It’s plot is a simple one: a husband and wife decide to keep their three children imprisoned in their luxury estate and forbidden from exiting. They have taught their children literally everything they know, and tell them that if they leave, they will be killed by viscious, man-eating cats. They say their children will only ever be able to leave once they lose their wisdom tooth, or “dogtooth”.
The kids are dumbed down and taught false truths, as well as false meanings for words, such as a vagina is a “keyboard,” and a zombie is a “yellow flower.” Their father tells them that they have a brother who lives over the fence, and one day decide to fake this imaginary brother’s death, at the hands of a simple cat which one of the children (who are in reality in their early 20s, at the most) disembowls with gardening shears in a particularly memorable scene.
The cinematography of the film is beautiful, and could not possibly be more European. When it comes to European cinema, the filming is going to be very soft, very static image, and the influence of Michael Haneke is present throughout the film, in various stationary shots. The director could try to make us feel claustrophobic, like the children locked in the grounds of the mansion, but he doesn’t. Why? Because the children never feel claustrophobic. They don’t want to leave.
The setback of being taught everything from two cold, lifeless parents and no one else is that you, too, will inevitably become cold and lifeless. The characters’ conversations are emotionless, borderline robotic, with the exception of the occasional emotional outburst. The sex contained in the film (some of which is incestuous) is completely devoid of any humanity; the characters don’t enjoy it. To them it is another menial chore.
There is no sanity in the emotion of the people in this movie; nor is it insanity. It is normality. For about twenty years, these characters have been living in the same, unchanging state of endless routine, and the simple thought of what might happen if/when they’re introduced to a different climate, a life outside their home, is horrifying and strangely impossible. It seems like they might explode if their is any drastic change; they are so used to what they’ve been living, that real life would be a shock big enought to kill them.
Their is humour in Lanthimos’ film. It is dry and presenting without comic intention. The film has comic moments, but calling it a comedy is far from the truth, and a complete underestimation. It is a horror movie, though not explicitly stated as one. Just think about it, what these kids have been put through. Some would call it a blissful paradise; I call it ignorance. Lanthimos presents a stale indictment of the countless dangers of bad parenting, and the possibilities of what kids can be taught if a Godly power is given to the wrong person. Dogtooth is one of the most thought-provoking, strange and excellent films I have ever seen, the former especially. The implications of its bare-boned detail will be stuck in my mind for a long time, and has a surprising effect not only on the viewer, but on the process of filmmaking itself, and the thought that goes into plot and contemplation of a strange life which exists only within the thin film reels, but manages to have a lasting effect long after the final, thought-provoking frame.
My Rating: 8/10
Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.