Cult Cinema: Dogtooth

Andrew reviews the 2009 feature, Dogtooth.

"Would you like to finger paint?"
Part of being a parent is knowing not only how to shield your budding children from the evils of the outside world, but also learning how far to let them wander and explore on their own before electing to tug the leash and corral the kiddies back to the nest.  You can either be too strict and overprotective with how much Earth and life your young absorb, or you can be lackadaisical and irresponsible by letting them run wild and undisciplined.  It's a tricky task and a learning experience any way you slice it, and finding a midpoint is key to being a successful mother or father.  But we often can't help but wonder about the families that take either approach to parenting to extremes, being too hard or loose on your children, and what a family functioning that way would look like. 

Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos answers that question with his surreal and provocative 2009 shocker 'Dogtooth' with what is most likely the most repressive home school parenting ever captured on film.  In it, two sisters and a son spend their daily existence locked in their homestead, with a large gate and tall walls preventing entry or exit for the family.  The mother stays behind while the father drives to and from work in the factory.  The father himself behaves like an alien when he enters the outside world, saying very little with an unblinking stare as fellow humans drone on talking at him. With exception to home movies, the nameless family members don't watch TV, don't listen to the radio, are taught occasional cats who scale the walls are deadly man-eaters, and that airplanes flying overhead are toys.  They're reminded regularly of a brother they have never met having scaled the walls.  Everyone speaks to each other with stilted dialogue and as the youngsters mature into young adults, sexual curiosity has no taboo or meaning.  Next to Cronenberg's “Cosmopolis”, these are some of the most bloodless creatures seen onscreen in recent memory.  Only when an elder loses their canine 'dogtooth' are they mature enough to leave the household, with the parents' counting on that day never arriving.

"Family bath time is just the best!"
Largely shot in long takes with wide angle lenses, the ordinary family household has never looked more sterile and warped at the same time.  It's a bit like being a fly on the wall and the explicit sexual content only serves to further unnerve the viewer, largely due to the context and dispassion on display.  That it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film is even more shocking.  Whether one can come away having said they 'enjoyed' the experience of bearing witness to familial imprisonment, you could read 'Dogtooth' as a penultimate teen rebellion film.  A desire to break free of the routine browbeaten upon the children begins to form within the viewer over the course of the film.  The ability to think and decide for yourself is a tool absent from the lives of these children, deprived by parents afraid of their young making self-destructive decisions.  However alien these kids may seem, we too were young once and were sheltered from the sins of the world.  

The question becomes whether or not corruption through life experience really is so detrimental to our natural development and maturation as normal human beings.  More importantly, is keeping your child pure and free from sin in and of itself a form of corruption?

-Andrew Kotwicki