Dogtooth (Greek, 2009)
“Your Children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts… You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
-From ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran
We come across flicks on dysfunctional families, almost across every language. A family is the functional building block of a society. Domestic violence has been depicted on screen quite often, of which most of them showcase male dominance and highlight gender inequality. Very few of them take on the side of parental arrogance and victimized children. Even within this sub genre Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Dogtooth’ takes a different route.
The film chronicles the lives of a wealthy family- a couple with their three young adult children- living aloof in their bungalow. Parents bring up their children shunning them away from the real world, and deny them their moral right to grow up normally and from attaining maturity. Way beyond their teens the children still are intact with their innocence for the parents deliberately provide them with an alter-reality, a fictional depiction of the world around them to hold them back within their reign.
The father figure obviously serves as the mastermind behind the plots that are created to check on the children. The mother simply obliges blindly and assists his schemes. On age, father facilitates to satisfy his son’s sexual needs by arranging his industrial complex’s female security guard as the sexual partner. She is the only person allowed to enter, blind folded, into the otherwise secluded compound periodically.
Dogtooth is a flick that shows the viewer of the happenings and never attempts, not in a scene, to explain the reasons behind the events that unfold. Neither directly nor indirectly it tries to bring out the reasons behind this bizarre parenting but spends most of its on screen moments chronicling the childishness of the trio. The plot design details the innocence of the teens juxtaposed the silent arrogance of the father and the mute acknowledgement of their mother.
This is one of the most violent movies that I’ve experienced in recent years. The terror of experiencing the psychological violence that is unleashed on the teens makes one sick. They are even deprived of knowing the correct meanings of the words. Whenever they ask their parents about the meanings of delicate words they are supplied with invented meanings. The father terrorizes them that the world beyond the compound is filled with scary cats which are full of evil. He adds they are free to go only after their dogtooth falls, a sign of their maturity and preparedness to enter into the world on their own.
All hell breaks loose while the father finds the sexual exploitations of one of his daughters by the security guard on her visits, after manhandling her in her apartments, he goes on to the extent of replacing her role with his elder daughter and the mother seconds it without a word. But what sort of purpose does this close-ring-upbringing serves remains a mystery. The eldest of the trio on a night breaks her tooth to deserve herself the permission of getting out to the real world in the climatic sequences shows the urgency and tryst for liberation of that soul. The moment the camera freezes on the rear of the car in its closing frame, the movie morphs into a thriller.
The filmmaker makes his debut with this work which has already bagged many honors and praises across the film circuit including the wins in Cannes and the nomination for the Academy awards in the Best Foreign Film category.
What makes Dogtooth unique is the design of the film that provides ample room for viewer participation making it one of the most active-viewing experiences in recent times. Besides the film opens up multiple view points from which the work can be approached each of which might give a fresh interpretation of it.
Dogtooth is certainly not the film-for-everyone. And tolerating the film certainly depends on one’s past viewing experience. Dogtooth is a film that boldly details the parental violence and yet has the potential to be read as the allegory of political control and the modus operandi of power to keep the followers/citizens within hold.