A couple of warnings about Dogtooth, stay until the end and don’t get lost in the content. The synopsis describes it as a film about a dysfunctional family where the parents keep the children away from outside influence in a utopian setting. A slow breakdown of this reality ensues when the father brings in someone to satisfy his son’s sexual needs.
This Greek movie is a powerful examination (and I do mean slammed against the wall and then struggle to catch your breath kind of powerful) of relationships and what holds people together.
A man with little power at work apart from listening to his boss talk about home designs and ordering his secretary to water the Yukka more regularly becomes a God like presence in his own home. There is an emotionless stunted existence of the type seen on Big Brother shows where there is nothing for the three children to do apart from interact with each other.
In an opening reminiscent of Orwell’s clock striking 13, the beginning shows three young adults sitting around a bathroom listening to instructional tapes that provide different meanings for ordinary words. A “telephone” means a salt cellar, an “excursion” is a durable flooring material, a “motorway” is a very strong wind.
There was a general laugh in the cinema but the consistent alternate reality becomes sinister very quickly. Insidious little acts are accepted as normal and the easy ability to manipulate their children turns these ordinary people into monsters. The children become childlike, muted, characters that exist not only for our entertainment but also for their parents. The latter would say it was for their own good but the former don’t get to choose.
Dogtooth takes its name from the front canine tooth said to drop out when a person is ready to leave home and face the world. The false promise by the adults to the vulnerable younger people keeps them going while the fear of the outside world stops them escaping.
Greece’s experience of an authoritarian force is not more than a generation past with the military junta being overthrown in 1974 and 400 years of occupation ending at the beginning of the last century.
This is a tale of morality which explores the degradation of humanity when people are constrained into acting only how others would like them to act. Strip away the love and emotion that makes people expand as individuals, take away the beauty and support that makes them determined to soar and what do you get?
You may fulfil one of the basic levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is security but you establish none of the beauty, the freedom, the happiness that arise from the power to determine your own future.
Strip out love and choice from physical relationships and you get pornography and much of the movie reflects back the very basic pleasure that it all comes down to when there’s nothing left.
After centuries of physical oppression and years to come of financial constraints and restrictions, there are waves of dissent that are becoming even more prevalent than usual in Greece. The Greek flag is made of a white cross on a blue background alongside five blue stripes and four white ones. The stripes represent the nine syllables that make up the phrase ‘freedom or death’ (e-leu-the-ri-a i tha-na-tos) and it’s this constant interplay between the two extremes in which Greece shows where its focus lies. Change has to come, and the more restrictive the regime, the more brutal the attempt to escape whether that be physical, financial or emotional. Watch the movie until the end. Then shake yourself, walk out of the cinema and see how tightly you hold on to your loved ones.
Dogtooth is screening at the Watershed in Bristol until May 6.