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Persona

Dogtooth.

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From Filmsweep:

The first initial thought that comes to mind regarding Dogtooth is the cinema of Épater la bourgeoisie. Literally, "shock the middle classes," the rallying cry came to artistic fruition in the post-silent surrealist films of Buñuel and Dalí. The famous razor cutting the eye scene in Un chien andalou (1929) is the same lightning jolt of cinematic shock reincarnated in Dogtooth's scene of a teenage girl taking a hammer to her face trying desperately to extract the title's tooth.

But while Dogtooth contains that same edge of grittiness and mixed surrealism throughout, it cannot simply be swept away, dismissed as unbridled decadence. The coming of age story from Greece is the most bizarre and disturbing film on screens so far this year, focusing all its strength on an isolated family, a wife and children literally held captive by an authoritarian husband/father. But an outright dismissal, even in the wake of scenes that left me wishing I weren't included in the viewing process, would be a reading void of interpretations regarding governing lies and communal order, whether in family mode or nationalistic oppression, and the misinformation in those atmospheres put in place to hold rule intact.

This probing of a family lied to and stashed away in a "bunker" reminded me of no particular film I've seen but brought to mind lyrics of one of my favorite Arcade Fire songs: "We know it's just a lie / Scare your son, scare your daughters / Every time you close your eyes -- Lies! Lies!"

At the heart of the story is an eccentric, reclusive family of five -- or six, and maybe soon to be eight or nine, depending on how you interpret some of mom and dad's lies -- wherein the visible children, two daughters in their mid-teens and a son around the same age, live in an industrialist's large house, deceived about the outside world and unable to make contact with it. A large wall is built around the home. The children aren't allowed to cross over and have never been on the other side, where they've been told a supposed 'nother brother might live. They toss things to him to see if he'll react. They gaze at the fence in fascinated wonder, unsatisfied with the large house and outdoor swimming pool in the home they've always known.

Dad is the great deceiver. He's the only one with the key and the car to get outside the family property. He brings home a woman from work to take care of the sexual needs of his son. He teaches the children wrong words for items he doesn't want them to understand. He plants large fish in the swimming pool to plant the notion that dangerous outsiders can appear at any time. When the fish are finally noticed by one of his daughters he descends into the pool with a spear.

Dad has no background which defines him, no dialogue which explains his need for control. Perhaps he is better left not understood, only known as a sore source of power, a character who will bowl you over, whether through psychological means -- the withholding of information, the enforcing of his will -- and even physical assaults, attacks which finally give us a visual of his rotten core.

Mom stays home with the kids, also obedient to dad and his ways. We're never quite sure whether they're creating this world together, whether she's fully vested in the home's drama or whether she's held like a slave, like a 50s businessman's trophy wife, lapping at the heels of her husband. Other than dad she is the closest to the outside world -- she hides a telephone in her bedroom so she can call him at work when she needs.

A kitten wanders onto the property while Dad is gone to work. As the daughters cling to each other inside, staring out the living room window, screaming in blinding fear, son takes a large axe and chops the cat to a bloody screaming death in the front yard. Dad later warns about these dangerous cats -- they are preying monsters to be feared. He teaches mom and the children to get on all fours and bark like dogs to protect the property.

One of the reason the Arcade Fire song is so fitting are the themes of lying to your offspring about the nature of human sexuality. Dogtooth in places, ever so severely deals with the ramifications of hiding truth from innocent eyes, as maturing kids now begin to awaken. With no one to provide direction and with no nourishing guidance from their parents, what more would we expect of the kids than to completely misunderstand their sexual identities and become thoroughly screwed up?

When the outsider, the workmate originally brought home to satisfy the son, becomes more of a burden than an answer, introducing foreign concepts in a home that won't allow it, the relationships that were once just typical of sibling rivalry -- playing games to see who could hold their breath the longest, who could find mom first with a blindfold, who could take on the greater pain or wake up first from passing out -- become immoral without even the knowledge of the fruit they bit into. It's the innocence of the Garden without the Knowledge of the Tree. They become sad in their daily dealings; adult depression drifts into minds held captive in first grade.

Dogtooth has a linear-driven, naturalist style that occasionally plummets surrealist, almost Lynchian horror and avant-garde boundary pushing of social order and acceptance. Incestuous scenes are an affront to any intelligent watcher, and yet here, in this family, with these misplaced taboos and outlandish domestic priorities, you've got to think that the wrong that happens is exactly how it would naturally play out. This in turn is a statement about whatever anti-authoritarian stance you wish to read into, interpret or suggest.

The director is on record for letting the film speak for itself. He is open to the interpretation of the viewer. For this viewer it is both sickening and illustrative. It's a film I can't recommend for anyone but contains certain ideals I wish to recommend for all. It suggests a harder life when idly buying into the lies of those who have walked in front of you. It wants you to question your authority figure, and suggests there are consequences when you don't. It is the reality of existence when held at a distance from mom and dad's unspoken private lives.

Edited by Persona

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Forgot to mention -- closest current film comparison that comes to mind is The Idiots. Still not a good comparison, but that's as close as it gets.

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I've heard Dogtooth compared often with The Village. The latter maybe has the more allegorically-interesting premise, but Dogtooth is a much, much better film. When I saw it last year, I went in knowing nothing about it, and I was really blown away. You're right, it's a bleak film with one of the bleakest endings I've ever seen, but Lanthimos's total commitment to the story and to its style saves it from collapsing. If he'd balked at all at following through on the consequences of this little mouse trap he built, then it would be a gross and inexcusable work of exploitation. But this is a case, I think, where the graphic depiction of sex and violence is absolutely essential. In fact, my only real complaint with Dogtooth is that Lanthimos's facility with absurd humor -- the singing and dancing scene near the end, for example -- makes the film a bit too easy to swallow at times. I mean, even the humorous sections are deeply disturbing, but it's always easier to ignore the horror when we're encouraged to laugh at it.

A few thoughts on your response:

Does the film ever give the ages of the children? You mentioned that they're in their mid-teens, but I imagined them being in their 20s, which makes the scenario a different kind of disturbing. For what it's worth, Lanthimos was at my screening, and he told us that the actor and actress who have the sex scene together are partners in real life. Apparently they're both members of a well-respected and somewhat avant-garde acting company in Greece.

We're never quite sure whether they're creating this world together, whether she's fully vested in the home's drama or whether she's held like a slave, like a 50s businessman's trophy wife

As I recall, the film doesn't explain this, but my sense was that she was a willing participant at first -- that she shared her husband's desire for a kind of absurdo-reactionary wonderland -- but has slowly become as much enslaved by it as her children. I'm not a fan of allegories, generally, but it certainly wouldn't be difficult to extend their relationship into a critique of patriarchy. It has a second-wave feminism feel to it.

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If he'd balked at all at following through on the consequences of this little mouse trap he built, then it would be a gross and inexcusable work of exploitation.

Quite agreed. This is a main beef I listed only a few days ago when I wrote about the Australian film The Horseman. No following through on the consequences is almost what I wrote word for word, and I really like your "gross and inexcuasble work of exploitation." It does set the film apart.

In fact, my only real complaint with Dogtooth is that Lanthimos's facility with absurd humor -- the singing and dancing scene near the end, for example -- makes the film a bit too easy to swallow at times. I mean, even the humorous sections are deeply disturbing, but it's always easier to ignore the horror when we're encouraged to laugh at it.

Not sure I agree on this point. These absurdist scenes create the greatest strength in the film's surrealism. It's funny, though, how different people interpret humor in these situations. The audience I saw it with really found the humor in the film and outright laughed at the absurdity. Cineaste writer Dan Georgakas said that aside from the "zombie" and the "shark," "the film is essentially humorless." Which was a drawback according to him.

Some of it might go back to Diane's comment in the Troll 2 thread. How you engage and interpret a film is somewhat determined by the setting you see it in -- the crowd you are with (or not with, if you're catching it on DVD) factors in greatly. I wonder if Georgakas saw it on DVD.

Does the film ever give the ages of the children? You mentioned that they're in their mid-teens, but I imagined them being in their 20s, which makes the scenario a different kind of disturbing.

I think I'm going off of what I've read in different blurbs and maybe the Georgakas review. But some of those blurbs are wrong -- they placed the son as being older. IIRC, the son was supposedly younger than the sisters? At any rate, I thought the ages must have been somewhere between 18-20. But the one sister seemed younger than that.

For what it's worth, Lanthimos was at my screening, and he told us that the actor and actress who have the sex scene together are partners in real life. Apparently they're both members of a well-respected and somewhat avant-garde acting company in Greece.

Interesting you mention that. I don't make it a habit of researching which scenes have real sex, but I thought I might eventually try to find out about this one. Although there's nothing to show it except the angle of their bodies, I thought there was nothing else to assume except that it was real.

I'm not a fan of allegories, generally, but it certainly wouldn't be difficult to extend their relationship into a critique of patriarchy. It has a second-wave feminism feel to it.

Is that because it shows how bleak the world could be with only a man in control?

Edited by Persona

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The Silent Movie Theatre in LA is screening this all month. I may make it a double feature with The General next Wednesday, which would be quite the contrast I think. Still a little apprehensive about what I'm subjecting myself to by buying a ticket though.

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Also, out on DVD 1/26.

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Watched it tonight, a little underwhelmed. The whole thing felt too contrived to be effective. I think the film was supposed to get progressively more absurd, but it's hard to say.

Is teaching your kids incorrect meanings of words for no apparent reason any more absurd than paying a woman to have sex with your son, and is that any more absurd than making your son choose which of his sisters to have sex with? Is not giving your children names more absurd than telling them that their mother is giving birth to a dog? For that matter how can you maintain such control when you give your daughter medical books to read?

It's all too arbitrary. It's impossible to figure out the parental motivations because they just do random stuff. Given how quickly it all unwound it's surprising they got this far with it.

And the ending was... far too abrupt. Normally I'm pretty forgiving of abrupt endings but I don't think this film earned it.

Edited by theoddone33

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Let me get this straight. This film is nominated for an Oscar and Of Gods and Men is not?

I know AMPAS can make some strange choices, but this is just too much.

color me :cry: and :shock: and :angry:

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Let me get this straight. This film is nominated for an Oscar and Of Gods and Men is not?

I know AMPAS can make some strange choices, but this is just too much.

color me :cry: and :shock: and :angry:

Yes ... I prefer OF GODS AND MEN, but preferring DOGTOOTH is a perfectly reasonable choice. It is certainly the more singular film. The presumed (99% likely) back story is that DOGTOOTH was entered into the semi-final 9 by the special panel that gets 3 choices to add into the 6 with the highest scores from the 1st round of voting based on the general AMPAS screenings (where DOGTOOTH was reputedly a disaster).

Here's my take on the film last capsule of the day.

Edited by vjmorton

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Having processed this a bit, let's see if I can say anything of interest on it. I still have no love for it. I get the references to Bunuel, but then I was never a fan.

In my mind this is perhaps more akin to Antichrist. I see both as variations of the Eden story. Antichrist is Eden with no God. Dogtooth is Eden with a random and capricious God. (OK, that probably oversimplifying both films, but it gives an idea of how I see this.) The innocence of the children is not seen as a good, but as the parents' preventing them from becoming fully human. They are trapped in a world they (seemingly) cannot escape. They are kept ignorant - and there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Christine (interesting name for the Serpent, no?) brings the goad that leads to the Eldest's "liberation" - but it is not in the sexuality - which remains innocent - but in the view of something outside their world - Rocky and Jaws.

Although my interpretation of Eden is not one of "Fall" (discussions of such must be hanging around in old threads somewhere), even for me this perversion of the story is just hard to connect with.

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Having spent a half year away from the film now, I see Dogtooth a little differently. I know when I first made my blogpost, that it was more in relation to parenting and control. And that could be the point, to someone's interpretation. But now I see that the film works at a more political level as a metaphor for communism, specifically the kind of post-communist collapse I saw in Albania when I was there two times in the mid-90s.

I am no history major, but the main points regarding Albania from WWII through 1992 in relation to Dogtooth are as such (and if this seems wrong, Buckeye Jones will step in and help me out) : a dictator referred to by the residents as "daddy," someone they trusted, but who sealed off their borders and erected thousands of bomb shelter bunkers all over the land. He withheld information from the people and lied to them about the outside world, claiming there was always danger across the border, creating a sense of fear of the unknown. Televisions and transportation were not allowed. He did all this while somehow creating a sense of national pride, a trust in him, even to the time of his death. The first thing many Albanians bought in the years following Hoxha's death was a satellite dish to receive television from countries outside of their border -- I saw countless examples of Albanians with dishes outside their house, and no food inside the home. The people were saddened and felt tricked and deceived when they finally realized the truth about the lands on the other side of their border -- that they had trusted this man Hoxha and his misinformation.

I'm sure I've simplified some of that, but it is a general overview.

Subjective reading? Maybe so. But Albania borders Greece, has a tied hundreds-of-years history with Greece, and since the lottery and pyramid schemes of the 90s, Greece has been a huge place for the immigration of Albanians, many of whom speak Greek (it is a government recognized minority language in Albania). I believe Buckeye Jones even has a script floating around where an Albanian is trying to row a boat to Greece.

EDITED LATER IN THE DAY FOR HORRIBLE GRAMMAR, sorry I was in a real hurry.

Edited by Persona

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Thanks for that. I felt there must be a political side to this, but couldn't see a connection with Greece.

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For the record, I haven't read that anywhere, it's just another way I've come to understand the film, and it makes sense to me.

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The Albania history is more or less right. I told my wife (who's Albanian, came to the states in 97) about Stef's theory regarding Dogtooth. Neither of us have seen the film, so I don't have a read on it. Lots of immigrants, legal and mostly not, went to Greece. A bunch more went to Italy. Pretty much regarded like the Tea Party regards Mexicans.

We were at a party the other week and were chatting with a professor from Nicaragua. It was amusing because the state television in Albania used to show Nicaraguan films during the eighties to show Albanians how awful the rest of the world was. Ismail Kadare has some challenging novels (such as The Successor, The Pyramid, etc) that touches on this as well.

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Finally, someone shows what growing up homeschooled is really like. unsure.gif (Netflix actually used that word in its description of the film.) **I was homeschooled myself, all the way from kindergarten until college**

I listened to Emma Donahue's novel Room a few weeks ago (the audiobook is produced really well, by the way), and it came to mind while I was watching Dogtooth. Room is about a man who holds a mother and her son prisoner in a single room. The comparison isn't exact, since the mother in Room does what she can to educate the son and genuinely loves him.

Also, in the dance scene

unless I'm mistaken, she was doing the choreography from Flashdance.

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Let me get this straight. This film is nominated for an Oscar and Of Gods and Men is not?

I know AMPAS can make some strange choices, but this is just too much.

It's not the sexual and violent content. It's the tedium. Give me Lars von Trier, David Lynch or Michael Haneke any day.

You've read the thread, you know that some others respond differently. But I don't want you renting the darn thing and then wondering why nobody warned you.

Philistine, puritan, lowbrow. Bourgeois. Bored. Antagonistic.

Edited by Ron Reed

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From Filmsweep:

A kitten wanders onto the property while Dad is gone to work. As the daughters cling to each other inside, staring out the living room window, screaming in blinding fear, son takes a large axe and chops the cat to a bloody screaming death in the front yard.

The daughters don't scream until the son kills the cat. He uses garden shears, not a large axe.

And that's all I have to say about DOGTOOTH.

That, and it was more boring than IKIRU.

Edited by Ron Reed

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Let me get this straight. This film is nominated for an Oscar and Of Gods and Men is not?

I know AMPAS can make some strange choices, but this is just too much.

There's an echo here.

That, and it was more boring than IKIRU.

Don't be badmouthin' Ikiru!

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Ron, Ron, Ron. The lengths you will go to to draw me out.

I did see your totally enjoyable post last night, and this almost became my new sig:

Give me Lars von Trier, David Lynch or Michael Haneke any day. -Ron Reed

But I really like the symbolic nature of where I'm at in life right now and the sig that so readily displays it. I can't make it go at this point. So, sorry I didn't respond last night. It was that, and the fact that these silly A&Fers wore me out yesterday arguing how great their new little list is. They wouldn't know a good list if it poked their little peckers. But we'll keep that info between you and me.

I suppose you were trying to draw me out because I put this in my Top Ten from last year. I do think I made a pretty strong case, both in the original post and in my Top Ten wrap that this would not be a film for everyone, so at least I believe I was honest about that. The problem over the course of the year was this: there was no other film I thought so much about after a screening last year than Dogtooth. And if you look at my very recent comments, which I'm sure you have, you'll see why. I do think the filmmaker was trying to get at something here, and I think that people in the part of the world where it was made will relate to it better than we can. Why was it nominated for an Oscar? I really have no idea. Maybe they "got it," but I think not, and doubt that I really do, too. I get it for me, and what I think it might be.

I don't think it is "philistine, puritan, lowbrow," as you say, and I certainly don't think of the film as a bore. "Antagonistic?" Yeah, I can see that. But in a good way. I would prefer the term "provoke" to "antagonize."

From Filmsweep:

A kitten wanders onto the property while Dad is gone to work. As the daughters cling to each other inside, staring out the living room window, screaming in blinding fear, son takes a large axe and chops the cat to a bloody screaming death in the front yard.

The daughters don't scream until the son kills the cat. He uses garden shears, not a large axe.

And that's all I have to say about DOGTOOTH.

You may be right about this, but I think the girls were screaming as soon as they saw the intruder, and that's what alerted their brother to defend the property. As far as the weapon of choice goes, I've only seen it that one time in the theater, so you get the benefit of the doubt there.

That, and it was more boring than IKIRU.

Oh, come now. You and I both know the only thing more boring than Ikiru is reading film reviews of Ikiru that are full of praise.

Edited by Persona

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Ron, Ron, Ron. The lengths you will go to to draw me out. . . .

I don't think it is "philistine, puritan, lowbrow," as you say, and I certainly don't think of the film as a bore. "Antagonistic?" Yeah, I can see that. But in a good way. I would prefer the term "provoke" to "antagonize."

I'm glad you recognized the stef-baiting for what it was. And just as you say it's not a film for everybody, I ought to just as readily admit that it clearly is a film for somebodies, and I don't mind that. Just thought I should make it clear with which group I most clearly identified. Me and Manson against the world! Or at least, against Oscar.

And to be clear: those adjectives were about me, not the movie. A confession, if you will. Just calling myself what everyone else will already be thinking about me. Pre-emptive strike.

Now I'm just going to go watch Titanic....

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Good heavens, this is a brilliant, horrifying film.

And another one for my "Love It But Will Probably Never Recommend It" list. It's a short list that includes Mike Leigh's Naked, Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, and The Last Temptation of Christ.

It's one of the most interesting studies of human behavior I've ever seen on film. It often reminded me of Safe, only it's so much more ambitious than that.

And yet, it requires things of the actors that surpass what I think is appropriate. That's a question I'll wrestle with for the rest of my life, I suspect, and it's a difficult thing to define. But I know I was uncomfortable not only with the scenario's implications, but with what the actors were required to do on camera. So that complicates my feelings about the film considerably.

At first I was chuckling over how it plays out an old Steve Martin joke about how parents can have a lot of "fun" teaching kids to "talk wrong." (That way, they'll raise their hand in class and say, "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?").

But I was also impressed by how the narrative reveals the family members, confused and misled as they are, carrying out sins of resentment, jealousy, and pride with Old Testament vigor. As if to say that some things may be arbitrary, like vocabulary, but some things stay the same no matter what systems and paradigms we're raised to inhabit, no matter what the lenses we're given reveal to us about the world.

The methods of control represented by the father, the mother, and the "visitor" made me think about all kinds of cultural influences, and how we are brought to surrender to their claims and promises. Claims that exploit fear, promises that exploit desire.

So many great scenes. Right now I'm particularly taken with the Frank Sinatra translation scene. Books could be written about this film. Great books.

Should I be seeking out other films by this director? Or should I be afraid of them? :unsure:

Okay... that's a first impression. I wanted to scribble it down before reading all of your thoughts, which I'm intrigued to read.

Edited by Overstreet

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Glad to see this finally get bumped. This movie has been on my heart since I first watched it weeks ago. I think it's a brilliant examination of life in a fallen world. I remember watching it and thinking "these people are crazy, the world doesn't work like this at all" and then realizing that each day I submit to a worily authority that probably has God making a similar, but much more loving, remark.

It became even more convicting when I thought about the mother and her eagerness to get down on hands and knees and bark along with her children. She, even more than the children, seems ridiculous to me because she KNEW better. She knew how ridiculous it was to think that barking served any purpose. That thought quickly transformed into the realization of how ridiculous it is for me as a Christian to continually ignore the Spirit for fear of looking ridiculous, when in reality, by failing to testify to the love and redemption I've found in Christ, I am just as foolish as that mother. I get caught up in the shared values and ideals of a fallen world and fail to love or help save anyone.

Reminds me again of David Foster Wallace's reminder that "This is Water" if you follow me. Too often I forget this is water and live in a world of lies because everyone else has accepted it. Even other Christians.

Edit: was too excited about seeing this thread bumped to actually read the posts in it. Going back now.

Edited by Scholar's Parrot

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She, even more than the children, seems ridiculous to me because she KNEW better.

Did she? I was still confused at the end as to how much, if anything, she really understood about her predicament. At times, she seemed as blind and lost as the children.

Man, if I'd seen this before we went into the Top 25 Horror Movies process, I might have campaigned hard for this one. And yet... and yet... how does anybody prepare an audience, or caution them properly, before a film as explicit and abrasive as this one?

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She, even more than the children, seems ridiculous to me because she KNEW better.

Did she? I was still confused at the end as to how much, if anything, she really understood about her predicament. At times, she seemed as blind and lost as the children.

All the discussions? The hesitations and apprehension? She threw the plane into the yard and yelled "it fell" and she was recording the tapes of incorrect definitions. I think that blind and lost impression you get could be explained by her unquestioning submission to her husband.

Edited by Scholar's Parrot

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Well, yeah, but did he teach her to deceive them? Does she really know what she's doing?

I guess that, logically, she came from somewhere, so she has to have had some experience in the outside world before committing to sustaining his deceptions. But she's clearly become lost inbetween reality and the lies they've built. How lost, I'm not sure.

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