17 March 2011 | Buddy-51
stunning allegory about totalitarianism and propaganda
What if you could be the master of your own universe, able to make everything to your own specifications and liking? And what if, in that universe, you could have absolute control over your subjects, so that, not only would they have to do what you told them to, but you could even go so far as to shape the very way they look at the world?
The unnamed middle-aged protagonist (Christos Stergioglou) of "Dogtooth" has created just such a kingdom for himself and his wife (Michelle Valley), tucked away in a rural area of Greece, where the two of them have raised their children - a boy (Christos Passalis) and two girls (Aggelika Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) who are all now in their late teens - in such complete isolation that the kids have virtually no knowledge of the world that lies beyond the fenced-in little compound in which they live. They know only that it is a dangerous and scary place and that none of them will be able to venture out into it until their dogtooth falls out - which is to say never. They are so misinformed as to how the real world actually works that they think planes are just tiny objects moving through the air, and that if one of those tiny objects were to fall out of the sky and into their yard, the children would be able to pick it up and play with it like a toy. They've also been taught by their colluding parents to believe that prowling cats are a mortal menace to be destroyed on sight. The kids spend much of the day doing repetitive chores, playing meaningless games and being taught an incorrect vocabulary (they use the word "phone" when they really mean "salt," for example). The father regularly pays a young woman (Anna Kalaitzidu) he works with – the only person from the outside world the children are allowed to meet - to come and have sex with his post-pubescent son, and severely beats the kids every time they step out of line.
A stunning allegory about the evils of totalitarianism, "Dogtooth" is somewhat reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" in its basic premise and setup, only here the guiding principle seems to be less about protecting the young ones from the harsh realities of a modern world and more about this one man's finding a way to achieve a kind of apotheosis for himself - making himself a god in the eyes of his children. For not only does he make them reliant on him for all the basic necessities of life, but he's made it so that they accept without question the "truths" of the physical and moral order he's established for them to live by.
The man and his wife have together inverted and perverted the very definition of parenthood. Rather than grooming their children for an adult life in the real world, these parents deliberately infantilize their offspring, making it virtually impossible for them to leave the home and start a life of their own. This ensures that the kids will be there to take care of them for the rest of their lives.
On a broader scale, the movie is a searing indictment of the power of propaganda, showing how easy it is to mislead people and to compel them to do what one wants simply by feeding them false information and, thus, skewing their view of realty and the truth. And isn't this how totalitarian dictatorships are born and sustained? But there's also an innate desire for liberty and independence lurking in the recesses of every human soul that must finally assert itself in a desperate run for freedom, and the movie addresses that reality as well.
The movie is both raw and provocative as it takes on some rather touchy sexual themes – mainly involving incest - that some in the audience may find disturbing and discomfiting to put it mildly. There's also a fair amount of full-frontal nudity, brutal violence and more-than-simulated sex scenes in the movie.
Yorgos Lanthimos' direction is spare and stripped-down, as befits a parable, with off-kilter visual framing that heightens the bizarre nature of the piece.
"Dogtooth" is unnerving, thought-provoking and provocative – and a must-see for the unconventional, adventurous movie-watcher.