I have seen some odd movies in my time. I have seen movies about time-traveling midgets, clay-animated surgically-removed serial-killing Siamese twins, people eating dumplings made out of babies in order to stay young, a Japanese film where a man turns in to a machine after he accidentally kills a man who likes to stab himself with rebar, a Czech film about a woman who raises a log as a child where the log eventually comes to life and starts eating people. Oh, and Eraserhead.
It would be hyperbole to say none of those hold a candle to Dogtooth. The above mentioned films are weird. Really weird. The one thing that differentiates Dogtooth from those films is its complete lack of the fantastic. The aforementioned films (Time Bandits, Basket Case, Dumplings, Tetsuo the Iron Man, Little Otik and, well, Eraserhead) all use dreamlike, abstract, incredible imagery to add to the storytelling. Dogtooth is subdued and grounded in realism from the beginning.
Dogtooth takes place in Greece. We are never given a lot of context as to where in Greece, as the plot revolves around a mother and father raising three early twenty-something children who they have never let off the property. Never. They are told the outside world is too dangerous but, someday, when they lose their “dogtooth,” they will be allowed to venture out in to the world. In order to make this more tangible, the parents even create an older brother who lives on the outside.
Since there are no visitors, no friends, save a security guard at the father’s workplace whom he pays to have sex with his son once a week, we aren’t given any real insight in to why the parents have chosen this path. There is never a plausible reason for the parents to reveal this to the audience, and the film doesn’t force a reason. The reason seems to be that the mother and father really do think the exterior world is too corrupt. They actually believe they are helping their children by giving them completely sheltered lives. The father says something to this effect in the few seconds available for exposition in the entire film -- after he batters a woman with a VCR.
At the same time, however, they seem to have no problem taking advantage of their innocence by creating games for their own enjoyment. They teach the children incorrect vocabulary -- “sea” is a leather arm chair, a “motorway” is a very strong wind, a “carbine” is a white bird. They make them compete in feats of endurance and reward the winner with stickers. Whoever wins the most stickers at the end of the week gets to decide the entertainment for the night.
The film is not an easy watch. Its pacing is deliberate. The relationship between the siblings is loving, but also awkward and, at times, unsettling. Relationships and sexual desire and how they manifest in a household where no outside influences are ever allowed is a significant theme. The father takes on the burden of antagonist in the film, insofar as there is one. He goads his children in to, at the very least, abnormal activities and, at the very worst, out-and-out creepy activities. In this you are left to decide whether the parents truly think they are acting in the best interest of their children, or simply out of sociological curiosity.
Written by Ryan Venson