Tuesday, February 15, 2011

DOGTOOTH: Paternalism Run Amok

Three teenagers are confined to an isolated country estate, by their parents, that could very well be on another planet. The uber-controlling parents terrorize their offspring into submission. The father is the only family member who can leave the manicured lawns of their self-inflicted exile, earning their keep by managing a nearby factory, while the only outsider allowed on the premises is his colleague Christina, who is paid to relieve the son of his male urges. Tired of these dutiful acts of carnality, Christina enlists the elder daughter for some girl-on-girl action, carelessly disturbing the domestic balance.

I first heard about this movie from a friend, Chris Osborn, and after watching the trailer, decided I needed to see it. I waited patiently for a few months until finally being put on Netflix Instant Play. The film speaks of the dangers of parental protection. Having blocked off their children from the outside world, these parents also control their knowledge of language. This is quite comedic at times when they try and explain the words "sea" and "phone" by relating them to objects in the house. The former is an armchair, the latter being a salt shaker. I found this to be a clever little trick the filmmaker used to deter those trying to find holes in the film. As well as use of comic relief. My favorite part, which leads to my least favorite image, is when they are told of the most dangerous creature on earth, cat, and that cat will tear them to shreds, killing them. That they must not leave the confines of their home because of this terrible beast. The parents then create an older brother who left home too early and was torn to shreds by cat. When a cat does show up in their garden, the son attacks it carefully with hedge trimmers. This results in my least favorite image, I'll let you find out what it is for yourself.

The film is beautifully shot, very crisp colors and superb framing. It is though, graphic in sexual and violent nature (such as the cat scene). This brought to the rising filmmaker, Giorgos Lanthimos, the title of being a new master of provocation in the same vain as Lars von Trier. A title I don't like much when attribute to von Trier, and definitely not to Lanthimos. The very idea of a provocation to be the center point of a film is absurd. At least with directors who make such beautiful movies, though provocative at times. I can see where someone would think movies by both directors are provocative; however, it is clearly not the goal of the director.

Lanthimos shows us the dangers of Paternalism in this piece, better than I believe Mill or Kant would be able to exposit. My understanding of Paternalism roots from learning Kantian Ethics in my Intro To Philosophy class. Kant, being a protector of reason, finds that all of ethics can be brought down to a duty we have as beings with the ability to reason. It is our ability to reason that sets us apart from other living creatures on the earth, and is of intrinsic value. Because of that value, it is wrong to hold Paternalistic practices that detracts our freedom to reason for ourselves.

In Dogtooth, when the stranger who comes into the family's home, a number of times, realizes the horror of their situation, takes advantage of it. She trades items for sexual favors with the eldest daughter. When she eventually trades a few American movies (did I forgot to mention that this is a Greek film?), and the father finds out, the entire system is broken. In order to keep control over them he decides that one of the sisters must fulfill his son's male urges. The family can no longer hold together the way it did...

The ending of the film shows that this relentless Paternalism leaves the children with no possible life. I highly suggest it to anyone who enjoys art house or foreign films. The movie is up for an Oscar this year under the category of Best Foreign Language Film.


  1. Is it depressing? I'm very intrigued by the idea but don't want to feel like killing myself after watching it...

  2. I definitely would not consider it depressing. The sex scenes are (purposefully) awkward, and there's a really violent scene at the end that kind of shakes you, but it's not depressing like how Mystic River is depressing, or even how Dogtooth can be viewed as depressing.

    But then again, that's me.