Honey, I stunted the kids
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, February 11, 2011
It doesn’t take long to realize something is amiss with the family at the center of the genre-defying Greek film “Dogtooth.”
The three children, oblivious hostages on their parents’ estate, occupy a world in which zombie means “little yellow flower,” stickers are a form of currency, women give birth to dogs and licking a keyboard translates to something that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company. If it all sounds amusing, it is — at times. It’s also cringe-inducing, disturbing, thought-provoking and a little scarring.
Which isn’t to say this Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is bad so much as bizarre in that art-house kind of way. It should be noted, however, that the easily offended, proper or genteel moviegoers among us should stay far, far away from this film. Traditional family values are wholeheartedly rejected.
The nameless father — the only one allowed to leave the estate — and mother appear to be conducting a sick social experiment. As far as the teenage kids know, they can leave the house only once they lose one of their canine teeth (hence the title), which means their understanding of the world is dictated by the often erroneous pearls of wisdom their parents dispense. This keeps the kids in a somewhat childlike state, but it doesn’t eradicate violent acting-out or sexual urges, which is why Dad brings home a security guard from work, who moonlights as a prostitute, to fulfill his son’s needs.
The movie’s peculiarities extend far beyond the story line, however. Quirky, clipped dialogue consists mainly of non sequiturs, while the soundtrack sporadically stops and starts; the acting is deadpan and the characters are monotone. Director Yorgos Lanthimos holds static shots for extended periods, so that the action moves in and out of the field of view. Heads disappear when someone stands up, bodies vanish when a character bends down. Much of this seems to reinforce the feeling that, like the kids in the movie, the viewer is privy only to certain things, which are deliberately predetermined.
Of course, what the audience sees is more than enough. Even simple acts, such as cutting one’s toenails or rinsing with mouthwash, begin to take on a sinister aura. A hot shower may really hit the spot after the closing credits.
But even a good lather won’t wash away some of the film’s unshakable images, including one scene of self-inflicted violence so troubling it makes Natalie Portman’s “Black Swan” cuticle savagery look like a paper cut. It’s more than shock value that makes “Dogtooth” a memorable film, though. It’s a movie that makes you think, even if those thoughts consist mainly of reevaluating the definition of family dysfunction.
Contains nudity, explicit sexual situations, language, troubling content and violence enacted upon siblings, selves and animals.