Incredibly upsetting and wholly mesmerizing, Giorgos Lanthimos’ 2009 absurdist drama, Dogtooth, is a unique vision about a trio of children approaching adulthood who’ve been cut off from the outside world since birth by their disturbed parents. It’s a perverse parable and one that never fails to convince.
Trained their whole lives to believe that dangers lurking in the world will kill them if they step outside the gate of the family compound, three siblings (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni and Hristos Passalis) have stayed put and been miseducated by their insane parents. They’ve been taught that a salt shaker is called a “telephone,” so that’s what they call it. The only films they’ve ever seen are home movies and they’re allowed no interaction with anyone but their parents and each other. Only Father (Christos Stergioglou) leaves the grounds, and he drives straight to his job as a middle manager in a factory and returns home as soon as he can. While dad is the leader of the ruse, Mother (Michele Valley) goes along wholeheartedly, convincing her dull-faced, damaged children that she can give birth to dogs.
But when Father brings home the female security guard from his plant to relieve the burgeoning sexual urges of his son, the dynamic begins to change and the balance of power becomes unmoored. As hormones rage and natural curiosity blooms, the children grow increasingly violent under their suppression. Soon they’re slashing one another with kitchen knives, clubbing each other with bats, taking hedge clippers to stray cats and performing all manner of unnatural acts.
You could accuse Lanthimos of trafficking in oddness for the sake of oddness, with no greater desire than to shock or titillate, but that wouldn’t be giving this amazing film the credit it deserves. As the movie reminds, we live to some extent by the tenets that we receive whether they be elements of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, political ideology or the ones we learn in our homes behind closed doors. Even if those lessons are irrational, they’re real to us and effect they way we behave with others who’ve been informed by different standards. And the violence and perversity in this fictional crazy home is nothing compared to the horrors that go on in our allegedly sane world.•