Dogtooth (2009) movie poster

(2009) director Yorgos Lanthimos
viewed: 03/15/11

Dogtooth is a strange, affecting Greek film about a family that takes isolationism to bizarre extremes.  The father and mother have kept their three children locked inside their remote compound their entire lives.  They are now adults, but have been taught that leaving the compound (before having lost one’s dogtooth, “canine”) will result in sudden death.  And that cats are the killers.  And that airplanes are actually toys that occasionally fall in the yard.

They have isolated their children through the fears that they have taught them, the depiction of the world that they have painted, a mixture of lies and fabrications, including telling them that the names of some objects are different from normal usage.  They are utterly controlled by their understanding of the world.  And the father perpetuates this to keep them close and under control, much like the dog that he is having trained.  The trainer tells him, “Do you want a dog or do you want a friend?”

There is great absurdity in the world of Dogtooth, but its critique of paternalism is keen.  While most people do not teach their children such blatant lies, each parent does teach their children about the world in their own terms.  It also struck me regarding the Saussure-ian idea of how culture and ideology begin to be taught at the moment that language is learned.  The control of the mind is a structure of society, and so the father in Dogtooth uses language as well as lies to exact control over his adult children.

The director has suggested that the idea burgeoned from a thought of a future society where protecting one’s family required taking things to extreme.  This seems to indicate that the mother and father’s bizarre control over their children arises from a desire to protect and keep them together.  Perhaps that is what gives the film its odd sensibility that doesn’t utterly condemn their actions, but rather exposes the impossibility of controlling the minds and lives of other people, no matter how “out there” their world is.

The film has a outré quality, not like any one director or film that I can think of.  The visual style is very clean and straightforward, almost bland and banal, in contrast to the strange ways that the characters act.  It’s also not without discomfort, distress and displeasure, as it focuses on this strange psychological abuse, incest, and occasional violence.  It’s hardly a laugh riot, though much of the contrasts of the characters’ odd behavior make for some pretty funny scenes.

Really, I have to say that this is one of the best films that I’ve seen this year.  Unique in vision and surprising and weird, this is a truly interesting film.

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