Dogtooth: Stifling Individual Choice

A cassette slips into a tape recorder. A voice soon booms in the room, “Today the new words are the following:  Sea, motorway, excursion and carabine.” Three kids are sitting in the room, listening intently – one boy and two girls. The instructional voice continues, “A sea is a leather armchair with wooden arms like the one we have in our living room. For example: don’t stand on your feet. Sit on the sea to have a quiet chat with me. A motorway is a very strong wind. An excursion is a very resistant material…” The voice continues, and the kids continue listening insouciantly. You want them to appear befuddled, but they are not.

We soon understand that these three kids have been alienated from the outside world by their parents and have been intentionally fed wrong information about the world they inhabit. One bizarre scene follows another. Consider this; the father calls a female to his house, so that his son can have sexual intercourse with her. Seconds later, what follows is an attempt at making love in a very mechanical fashion – almost animal like. Contrary to how most sex scenes are shot in movies, here there is no soft music, no dim lighting, no close ups. Lanthimos celebrates the scene’s awkwardness. And it is just a tiny precursor of things to follow. However, perceiving what is awkward and what is not, is not absolute, rather depends on one’s conditioning. Here, the siblings don’t see each other, neither their family as awkward. We are the unwelcome visitors in this case.

Dogtooth

Amongst all the bizarre information fed to the children, the most notable ones include: they are told to fear the cat as it is the most dangerous animal in the world, that they can leave the house and enter the outside world only when they have grown a dogtooth, that their elder brother once tried venturing into the outside world, and is therefore now — dead. Unlike most conventional movies, Dogtooth’s narrative doesn’t unfold in a string of sequences building onto one another. On the contrary, here each subsequent scene rivals the previous in terms of being bizarre and esoteric. After a point, you give up trying to figure what the movie is about. Because it could be about a number of things – a dystopic Orwellian future, human beings’ innate desire to dominate, or as a case study of overprotective and domineering parents. I read the movie as a social commentary on the parents who thwart their children’s choices. If you see closely, the parallel to majority of Indian parents is not far-fetched – fixated on drilling in their children the importance of stellar grades in Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Arts don’t exist. After class 10th, what are the choices they are ready to provide to their children? Choices? What choices? Science after class 10th. Engineering (or IIT) after class 12th. An MBA after engineering, and so on…

However, Dogtooth doesn’t play very linearly too – there is not only oppression by the parents. There is some defiance too. The eldest one finds a way to outside through movies. She surreptitiously watches Rocky and Jaws, and they open a new world to her. She murmurs the dialogues of Rocky long after she has seen the movie. Her father ultimately gets to know that she has been sneakily watching movies behind his back. He calmly sits in front of her, and orders her to bring a scotch tape. He tapes his hand over the VCR and smashes her head with it. And then renders it one more blow. And then another, and another…

But why the parents are doing such a thing to their children, you wonder. Lanthimos never spells out anything for us (neither does he give a hint), and leaves everything open to interpretation. This family is obviously bizarre to a theatrical extent, but if you look closely, it reveals a universally disturbing facet of human beings – desire to control and an innate craving for domination.

Dogtooth is disturbing in a way very few motion pictures can be. This movie would especially appeal to anyone who has been unreasonably dictated terms to – either by an overbearing boss, or by a parochial father, in short, anyone poaching individual freedom. And the choices are not expansive – you either buckle down and play to the gallery and in the process become a bad photocopy of yourself, or you break your dogtooth and step outside. Ready to face the world in all its monstrosity. Will you be able to survive?  Lanthimos might have the answer to your conundrum. But he does not want to reveal it. At least not that easily.

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