Dogtooth [A Brief Apologia by Haus]
As a special inaugural posting on ParsingHaus, we bring you the point-counterpoint that started it all.
Dogtooth is a curious little Greek film about an insular family. Really insular. The kids — who look to be about in their early twenties — have never left their house and its surrounding garden. Only the father ventures out. At home, he runs a tight ship, and a very weird one. Each night, the kids listen to audiotapes he prepares that “define” common words in strange ways. A female security guard is occasionally blindfolded and imported into this world to satisfy the son’s sexual urges. The dad occasionally plants live fish in the swimming pool for the kids to catch. The kids have no conception of life outside their hedged walls. Needless to say, they’re all a bit wiggy.
Parsi and I saw Dogtooth not too long ago. He hated it. I didn’t mind it so much. Afterwards we e-mailed about it. What follows is my e-mail to him. He’ll post his reply.
Fair Warning: SPOILERS ABOUND.
Dogtooth: I actually liked the ending. Through many means, the filmmakers cultivate our revulsion at this lifestyle — the imposed ignorance (fish in the pool, falling planes), the twisting of language and the associated loss of meaning, the isolation — and in the end, there really is nothing outside those walls for the eldest daughter. When she does finally muster the courage to venture outside the walls — doing so of course within the parameters she takes for granted and has learned from birth — she does indeed find only blackness, nothingness, ultimately death. There truly was nothing outside the house for those kids, and that’s a tough nut for the average happy-ending-quaffing filmgoer.
I enjoyed that it so obviously set up this terrible authoritarian regime for a fall, and the fall never came. It reminds me that we’re all wearing blinders thanks to the various nonsense we’ve been raised to believe — some true, some probably just as laughable to future generations as half the stuff in this film.
It’s really a potent condemnation of religion, even language, or any belief or structure system we import wholesale and use to frame our lives. Now, I’m sure this doesn’t escape your notice, and you (perhaps rightly) argue that this is a fairly hamfisted message in the first place, and in any event doesn’t need to be pounded home with gratuitous cat-killing, knife-slicing, keyboard-licking and incest. I think that’s correct, and the film is definitely guilty of going over the top. I actually wish it hadn’t, because the message is perhaps lessened by the audience’s obvious reaction to the more uncomfortable moments. It makes it look as though Dogtooth is merely the work of a provocateur, when in reality I think there’s more to be had from it.
As for the killing of the security guard — will this ever catch up with the father? Will the dead daughter in the trunk be found? Dogtooth does leave open some traditional avenues for comeuppance, so we have something to hold on to. But taking the film on its own terms, I cheer Dogtooth for its stubborn insistence on telling an unpopular and weird story, almost glamorizing the curious behaviors it showcased, and bringing the characters — none of whom were likeable — tantalizingly close to escape from Eden before yanking the rug out from under them.
I also enjoyed the idea that our belief system — even about something as seemingly basic as the size of the world, the size of our lexicon, and the size of an airplane — is 1) completely elastic, with an institutional memory that fizzles out the minute our parents/leaders decide to teach something else, and 2) will continue to constrain and shape our interactions with the world even when we experience an upwelling of courage or some other noble drive. The ultimate moral perhaps is that there really is no way to “re-socialize” those adults into a world that is not only unknown, but also completely at odds — even linguistically — with the one they know. They’re gone, hopeless. Much like fundamentalist homeschooled kids will never, ever accept evolution — or any other of a series of depressing real-world examples. If only we could get them to knock their own teeth out with HeavyHands and lock themselves in the trunk.
Now, as for whether the “auteurs” actually intended any of this, who can tell? But as any good lit crit student knows, it’s all reader response these days. Authorial intent is so 19th century.
HAUS VERDICT: Dogtooth. Do want.
Read what the other half thinks: Parsi’s View.