“Art is lies that tell the truth.” On one hand it is easy to dismiss such a graphic oddity such as Yorgos Lanthimos Oscar Nominated provocation Dogtooth (David’s Review). On the other, its brand of pitch-black comedy and hybridized cocktail of surrealism and lizard-brain-intellectualism (David Lynch, meet Michael Haneke) does get at exposing some things about how society functions at the microscopic level: Indoctrination and conformity to what you have been taught. Are you Christian because you parents were, because you were born in a certain part of the world? Muslim? Buddhist? Liberal? Conservative? If anything Dogtooth is a bit optimistic that we can all transcend, but boy-oh-boy if you do not have a basic toolkit, you are likely still going to be in a truck-load of trouble.
Rearing children is and is not dog training.
You can argue nature vs. nurture until you are blue in the face, but Dogtooth spends a lot of time equating the discipline of children to obedience training of canines. The title even derives from the made-up concept told from the parents to the children that people become adults when they lose their large incisor, their “dogtooth.” (left or right side is not important.) Cats are the ultimate enemy on the outside (and occasionally the inside) of the family compound. Rubbing the nose in the crime is shown by the assault of a VHS tape (duct taped to father’s hand like a training mitt) after watching forbidden films. The the arc of the film is this: How long can these kids (presumably late teens to early twenties) be stuck at adolescence playing low-stakes children games, collecting stickers (or giving a lick to a body-part as an act of soliciting a gift) before they find a way to grow up, with or without the help of their ‘masters?’ How entrenched in the human psyche is ignorance and submission? Children are bound to explore the extent of their own limits, well beyond any sort of disciplinary action. In short, kids grow up and dogs stay dogs.
Parenting may be a full time job, but over-parenting is performance art.
The lengths that the two parents go to in Dogtooth to raise their 3 children (possibly 4 at one point) sheltered from everything is both inspiring and disturbing. Nobody is more dedicated (or deluded) as these two thinking that they can be the only act of influence on their children’s lives. Horror (and satire) is best executed by taking an aspect of society and exaggerating it beyond recognition. The parents depriving their children of any form of coping mechanism to their emotions (other than some minor rewards and a new set of anxieties and fears) is one of the key sources of conflict in Dogtooth, something underscored by how the female security guard paid to service the son eventually seeds the destruction of the whole family, simply by interacting in brief fits and starts with three children. And some times you should just let your kids watch big American blockbusters such as Jaws, Rocky and Flashdance; if nothing else than it livens up the household charades night. When the security guard is removed from the picture, incest is the only viable option that will keep their sons urges in check and not upset the harmony of the household. Yup, performance-art.
Xenophobia creates the worst kind of monsters.
Watching the youngest daughter get a little miffed at her older brother and slash him with the kitchen knife, or later, offscreen, whack him with a hammer, tends to underscore that willful ignorance and sheltering from any engagement to the outside world is the worst possible thing you can do for human beings. There is a reason for the phrase anti-social behavior. Certain aspects of Japanese culture (one of the most ‘culturally pure countries’ (i.e. Xenophobic) over the centuries have also produced some of the worst atrocities (their treatment of the Chinese and Koreans over centuries), while ‘Fortress America’ operating unilaterally starting with Vietnam and moving into the 21st century has its own brand.
Xenophobia with a healthy dose of righteousness and hypocrisy is worse.
Certainly the worst aspects of religion (from Muslim extremists to the Westboro Baptist Church) are brought about by the leaders preaching one thing and doing something else. When the parents shelter their kids of damning influences of the outside world but need bad pornography to get the romantic spark going in their own relationship, well, what then? Dogtooth never drops the full set of intentions of the two parents with any easy exposition or explanation, but one imagines in their strange minds, they have only the best intentions for their young ones.
Life Will Find a Way
The climactic losing of the ‘dogtooth’ by the eldest demonstrates Ian Malcom’s (the mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park) theory that all forms of control will only spur on new levels of inspired biology and instinct. When language and vocabulary show a solution to ‘growing up and getting out of the house’ she is not above speeding things along with a set of running-weights. This scene is graphic and messy and evolution at its best.
Who would have thought that one 94 minute film that is violent, suspenseful, entertaining, weird and gorgeous to look at could cover such a wide number of topics: Language, Religion, Parenting, Evolution, Sociology, Hollywood Cinema, and the absolute evil nature of cats. It has less than a snowballs chance in hell of winning the Foreign Language statue from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but they are onto something for giving this one a nod.