Essays/Articles / Film Reviews

REVIEW: ‘Dogtooth’ (2009) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni in 'Dogtooth'

Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni in ‘Dogtooth’

The concept behind this film alone was enough to get me interested in the first place, but the execution is what has kept me thinking about this film for a long time afterwards.

In an attempt to sum it up, the film is about the dangers of home schooling taken to an extreme level. It is also somehow about the ease of social conditioning, the importance of the parental role, and the line between guidance and ownership within a family structure. It’s uncomfortable to watch at many points because as bizarre as some of the things the ‘children’ do and say may seem, within the context everything is made to seem disturbingly natural, a sign of how well-made the film really is.

Perhaps my favourite aspect is the way in which none of the characters are named, and often the cinematography favours shots of the backs of the characters heads, or just of their bodies, over front-on shots of their faces and eyes. In this way it seems Lanthimos deliberately tries to keep the audience from properly engaging with the characters, just as the parents keep their children from the outside world.

The film does a fantastic job of making the audience ask themselves question after question about nature vs. nurture in the raising of children. Lanthimos asks us what parts of our nature are due to innate impulses, and what parts are learned from living experience and society. Despite the mother and father’s attempts to avoid the topic of sexuality and repress their daughters’ urges, they experiences those urges nonetheless. Without any social guidance on the topic, the characters are matter of fact about usually taboo subjects such as incest, which they happily engage in. In some way, this might be Lanthimos answering the questions he has posed: that what is natural must be nurtured, and what is nurture must comply with what is natural. There must be balance.

We perhaps see this conclusion in the climax of the film, when the eldest daughter decides on her own that she is going to escape the house; by climbing into the trunk of the car she effectively climbs straight into another trap, since she lacks the knowledge and experience to literally get out of the trunk and to figuratively make her way in the outside world.

This idea that she (and her siblings) are intended to be trapped forever is foreshadowed in the title of the film; the ‘dogtooth’, the canine, is not supposed to fall out, it is not supposed to grant them freedom. Instead, it acts as a symbol for a future the children will never reach in their naivety, in order to keep them complacent.

The cinematography succeeds in enhancing the overall concept of control which is also shown through the characters’ limited speech, through the parents’ rigid postures, and the made-up, bizarre rules that keep their children from living their lives properly. The deliberately pale colour palette of almost every scene and the shots that linger just a little too long for comfort give an impression of the clinical, as if the house in which the characters live may as well be a hospital or a prison, somewhere where each and every move a person makes is scrutinized and monitored intensively, all in all making the whole film just a little more uncomfortable in the most effective possible way.

Dogtooth is an exquisitely interesting film with countless potential interpretations that I’m sure I will continue thinking about long after I publish this. It’s deeply thought-provoking, beautifully crafted and wonderfully acted: an all round winner.

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