Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dogtooth (Lanthimos. 2009)

"Soon your mother will give birth to two children and a dog."

Dogtooth is a movie that manages to take everything to the unrelenting extreme. Everything in the movie is stylized, haunting and creepily symbolic of society. It tells the story of a family in modern day Greece who live in exile from the rest of the world. We all knew at least one kid in school who seemed to be overly sheltered and unprepared for the real world. We wondered, as peers, what it would be like to spend one day in that kid’s shoes. Dogtooth runs with that notion and shows us one of the strangest families ever depicted in film.

Exile may not be a strong enough word to use in this case. The family lives behind a giant fence and are never allowed to leave the premises. The children are taught to speak in a strange vocabulary that gives new meanings to any word that is outside the realm of their home. For example, the mother tells the children that a “zombie” is a little yellow flower, and that the “sea” refers to a comfortable armchair. No family member is given a name. The teenagers are referred to as eldest daughter, younger daughter and son. The parents created a fictional “older brother” who was thrown outside of the fence because he refused to behave. He is now forced to deal with the monsters on the outside. The parents rule their children by making them afraid of the world. They can only leave their home after one of their dogteeth falls out. Obviously, that will not happen.

The father is the only member of the family who is allowed to leave the home. He supports his family by managing a nearby factory. Christina is a security guard at the factory, and she is the only person allowed in the isolated home. She is used to relieve the son of his “male urges”. I mean, she has sex with him for money. And their sex is awkward and graphic. Eventually, Christina gets bored with the son and makes advances on the eldest daughter. She offers the eldest a sparkly headband in return for having her “keyboard” licked. Can you guess what a “keyboard” is? It is a vagina.

Having never felt any kind of sexual contact, the eldest is quick to recreate the feeling by trading the headband to her younger sister in return for having her shoulder licked. No worry, a shoulder is just a shoulder. This leads to a strangely sexual moment between the two sisters that ends with the audience feeling ashamed of themselves. Dogtooth does not apologize for these feelings. It is an extremely erotic movie. The problem is that the majority of the sex happens between siblings.

Christina’s second visit to the eldest is not nearly as successful. She offers hair gel in return for sexual acts, but her offer is rejected. The only way the eldest will lick her is if she gives up two videos that are in her bag. The eldest has seen videos before, but she thought that all videos were family home movies. Christina gives her two of the greatest movies ever made, Rocky and Jaws. Both movies have a significant influence on her mind. She begins quoting scenes from the films and acting out famous moments in the swimming pool. Her father finds the tapes, beats the eldest with one of them, and bans Christina from his home.

Without Christina, who will pander to the son’s sexual urges? The mother and father decide that the son can choose one of his sisters to replace his former “lover”. He picks the eldest and continues into one of the most visually disturbing sex scenes I have ever seen. Erotic or not, Dogtooth does a fantastic job at making sex look unappealing. Each sex scene is framed in a way that forces the audience to watch. Every disgusting, awkward and unforgiving moment of the incest scene is also visually captivating. It is almost like a trap for your eyes. Your mind cannot take what is happening, but your eyes cannot look away from the screen.

Everything in Dogtooth is sickeningly pale. The skin of the mother and three teenagers is as white as snow. The colors on the walls do not vary far from light peach and milky-white. The costumes are simple and every dark-color is so faded that it is hardly noticed. There is something disturbing about this simple aesthetic choice. It is said that children’s imaginations are sparked by colors. If that is true then the kids in Dogtooth must not have any imagination. Their world is almost colorless.

After being forced to have sex with her brother, the eldest daughter realizes that she needs out. She goes into the bathroom and bashes her face with a barbell – knocking out her dogtooth in the process. She then hides in the trunk of her father’s car and waits for him to leave in the morning. She does not think this through. Though she does make it out, she is stuck in the trunk until somebody opens it. I think the movie implies that she dies in the trunk of her father’s car after being just inches away from the freedom she craved.

The story may seem off-putting, but this really is an entertaining movie. The concept is so strange and disturbing that it will easily make the viewer think about what they are seeing. The acting is eerie, yet the audience can be sympathetic to everyone besides the father. Giorgos Lanthimos does a great job taking the bizarre subject matter and turning it into an incredibly thought-provoking and demented science experiment. What will happen when two parents strangle their children’s ability to learn anything about the world? They will start having sex with each other. Lesson learned.

It may not make very much sense for the reader, but Dogtooth is very close to being a masterpiece. Every moment in the film works in the same fashion as a car wreck. The morbid entertainment value may not outweigh the guilt you feel from being entertained, but you still zoom your eyes directly at the madness.

Dogtooth: B+

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