I watched the Greek film, Dogtooth, last night. Not really a traditional, relaxing Sunday evening film. So, rather than pan out on the couch with my wife eating; ice cream, nuts, crackers and watching some Hollywood type blockbuster/thriller/drama/comedy, we got weirded out instead.
Not in a bad way just weirded out.
Dogtooth was released last year, won a number of awards, critically acclaimed (possibly because it’s bizarre, absurdist, disturbing, frightening, amoral) and generally well received. On its most simple level it takes the notion of parents instilling values upon their children to an extreme dark and rational conclusion – one can only think of the Josef Fritzl case when watching it – in order to protect them from the perils of the outside world.
The mother and father home school their children – who are unnamed – by providing them with daily tape-recorded vocabulary lessons, which would not be unusual if the definitions were less idiosyncratic. The three kids – two daughters and a son – are taught that “excursion” refers to a kind of flooring material, that a “sea” is a kind of armchair, “a carbine’ is a beautiful white bird and that “a motorway” is a very strong wind. And that’s just the opening sequence. Everything appears normal enough; the house has beautiful grounds, swimming pool, the siblings play around alot under instruction from their parents (ostensibly to distract them from contemplating the outside world), the mother stays at home while the father goes to work in a factory and it’s all bathed in glorious Greek light. But appearances are quickly dropped, negated by profoundly disturbing behaviour.
The house is fenced off so you can never see out and the kids are infantalised to such a degree that although they’re in their late teens/early twenties they lack emotion, empathy, speak in monotones, are distant as if perpetually drugged and amuse themselves by playing games bordering on either incest, fratricide or both. They get stickers from their father as rewards for good behaviour (although you’re never quite sure what that is), watch constant re-runs of
home movies, believe that Frank Sinatra’s version of “Fly Me to the Moon” is a recording of their grandfather sending out a message of paternal love, are convinced that ferocious cats who live beyond the gate have killed an invisible fourth sibling and planes are toys that fall from the sky. There is even an absurd scene when the mother announces that she’s going to “give birth to two children and a dog”. Then again, if her son and daughters behave themselves, they may be spared further human siblings. The dog is non – negotiable, though.
The only outsider allowed into this bizarre world is a female security guard, Christina, from the fathers factory, who is brought in (after been driven blindfolded to the house) to ‘service’ the sexual needs of the son. These sex scenes are so devoid of sexual emotion, energy, sweat, heat and lust the two characters might as well be lying on the bed watching paint dry. However it is Christina who eventually proves to be the catalyst for the breakdown
of this ‘perfect world’ that the parents have created for their children.
Having realised she can’t get any satisfaction from the son she decides to manipulate and take advantage of the older sister by offering her ‘things from the outside world’ in return for cunnilingus. All is well until the elder daughter demands the two videos – Rocky and Jaws – that she finds in Christinas bag. The security guard reluctantly agrees and what begins as a small act of manipulation and blackmail turns out to be the moment when the parents careful constructed world begins to crumble and turn to dust.
What started off as weird now deteriorates into incest and violence. With the infiltration of a little pop culture (the apple in the Garden of Eden) – in the form of Rocky and Jaws – into the house there can only be one outcome. And it’s not pretty.
Sound weird. It is. Even weirder than you think and what’s more it’s strangely beautiful to watch. The director favours off-kilter angles and setups that decapitate figures, shunting them to the frame’s edges, or laying them out in prickly power-dynamic arrangements. All of which adds to the disassociation you feel, the lack of emotional depth the characters have, the claustrophobia, the drugged out atmosphere, the monotony, the boredom. These static wide -
screen shots are beautiful and strange and add to both the weirdness of the behaviour and the sort of – normality of family life. The location is beautiful, the pool inviting, the garden is gorgeous, the light wonderful.
Dogtooth is simply a disturbing, horrific, darkly comic and absurd film that can be watched, analysed and discussed on many levels. Would I watch it again? Yes. Should you? Yes. Just don’t watch it on a Sunday evening when you might prefer something a little lighter in tone.