Kynodontas (Dogtooth) (Director: Giorgos Lanthimos): Although I saw this film several days ago, it’s been difficult to put my thoughts into words. Lanthimos has delivered an unforgettable and disturbing film, but not one that is easy to critique or even describe. And though I consider myself more of a film reviewer than a critic, it’s even difficult to provide any sort of plot summary.
Briefly stated, Dogtooth concerns a well-to-do Greek family, living in a large suburban house. The parents of three adult children have kept them confined to the house since birth, teaching them their own unique vocabulary (the “sea” is a large armchair, the “phone” is a salt shaker, “zombies” are small yellow flowers, etc.). Though the children appear to be in their twenties, they are dressed like children and spend their days engaged in competitive games to gain the favour of their parents. Occasionally, the father pays Christina, the female security guard at his workplace, to relieve his son’s sexual urges. None of the children have names.
If this isn’t unsettling enough, it soon gets worse. Christina takes a liking to the older daughter and gives her gifts in exchange for sexual favours. One of the gifts is a collection of VHS movies, which the daughter watches after everyone is asleep. This little bit of the outside world begins to obsess her. She asks her sister to call her Bruce, and begins quoting dialogue from Rocky and Jaws. She lashes out violently at her brother, and in one harrowing scene, dances herself into a frenzy. When her father finds out the source of this “evil,” he beats Christina and banishes her from their home. In a matter-of-fact but deeply disturbing conversation with his wife, they agree that one of the sisters will have to take Christina’s place.
The title of the film comes from another of the heartbreaking lies the parents have told their children. They will be ready to leave the house only when their dogtooth (eye tooth) falls out. As the older daughter’s desperation grows, she takes matters into her own hands, and the results are tragic. Aggeliki Papoulia is absolutely fearless in this difficult role, and the rest of cast make a strange and disturbing viewing experience also surprisingly compelling.
This is a film of stunning visuals to accompany the ideas. The house is decorated in 70s kitsch style, which reinforces the feeling of being trapped in time. The children are suffocating in this airless environment, and their sexual and violent urges are treated as something to be controlled. Everything that should give them pleasure is turned into a competition or a test of obedience. In the post-screening Q&A, Lanthimos explained that the genesis of the film came out of a discussion he had with some friends who were getting married. When he expressed his doubts about the institutions of marriage and family, his friends became extremely defensive. He decided to make a film about what would happen if a man went to the ultimate extreme to protect his family. In an odd way, the film reminded me of Cleanflix (review), which I’d seen just the day before. The folly of thinking that evil comes only from outside of us, or that our natural desires are bad, always leads to tragic consequences, and yet it is ingrained in our society. Luckily, it rarely goes to such extremes, but Dogtooth is a particularly unsettling reminder of the danger of idolizing the idea of “family” values.
Here is the Q&A with director Giorgos Lanthimos from after the screening: