Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009
#1, 2010 Skandies

Dogtooth is the story of the three adult children of a twisted fuck who, with the active participation of their mother, has raised them in near-total isolation from the world in an affulent exurban home. They spend their days playing silly games, such as "who can stay underwater in the swimming pool the longest?", in exchange for stickers. Of course, it's hard to shut out the world entirely, so the parents incorporate what they can't eliminate: airplanes appear occasionally, but the siblings think that they're tiny things flying just overhead, because their mother will throw a toy plane out the window while the father announces that the airplane they just saw had fallen into the garden. This sort of thing can cause weird feedback loops. For instance, one day the siblings see a new and therefore terrifying creature in the yard: a housecat. Their father sees this as an opportunity, confirming that, yes, the cat is "the most dangerous animal there is," revealing that one had killed and eaten their brother who had dared to venture beyond the walls of the yard, and warning that they must remain vigilant against cats who might attempt to invade the house. Not long thereafter, the son cries that his sister attacked him with a hammer. She protests that she came in and saw a cat with a hammer jumping out the window. Now, both siblings know that she's lying, because they were there. The parents also know that she's lying, because they know what cats actually are. But to say so would undermine the reality they've created. The son is punished for leaving the window open and letting the hammer-wielding cat in.

To me, the notion of artificial bubbles of false reality calls to mind North Korea — the "cat with a hammer" excuse reminded me of the North Korean soccer coach's insistence that the team's loss to the U.S. was a result of several players having recently been struck by lightning, or the North Korean public's blithe acceptance of official claims that Kim Jong Il made eleven holes-in-one the first time he played a round of golf. Or, for that matter, the universal belief in South Korea that sleeping in a room with an electric fan running can kill you. But why go half a world away? As some reviews of this movie have pointed out, right here at home half the population lives in a world created by employees of Rupert Murdoch, in which a Muslim socialist Kenyan usurper is conspiring with a defunct yet still threatening organization called ACORN to take our guns, Bibles, and Medicare away and drag us before death panels, and the only solution is to buy lots of gold. And this is the half of the population that in 2010 actually voted.

Other reviews drew comparisons to home schooling, a practice about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, when I read about people entering government with a background of Regent Law School, Liberty University, and home schooling, I get scared that we live in a country in which positions of power can be bestowed upon people who have never received a science education that extended beyond Hebraic mythology. On the other, I might well be inclined to go the home schooling route myself if I were in a position to do so. Not only do I think that I could give my kids a better education than most schools could provide, but, yes, I would like to spare my kids the experience of the distorted, maladaptive social environment that is the traditional school. I also suspect it's pretty likely that I'd try to limit my children's exposure to things like TV commercials and fast food and the usual leftie parent no-nos. So if anyone were to point to this film and say, "See! Parents shouldn't try to act as a filter!", that's not a position I'd have a lot of sympathy for, even if I thought it were possible for a parent to be present and not act as a filter.

One time I heard the "don't shelter your kids" argument a lot was back in '95-'96, when I was a regular listener to Loveline on Q101. Riki Rachtman and Adam Carolla would always talk about how if a parent closed a door, the kid would just go out the window. The window the eldest daughter in Dogtooth uses to connect to the outside world is the movies. Of course it's the movies. Because Dogtooth is a movie and art forms are endlessly self-congratulatory. If this were a rock opera her ticket out would have been a rock song. If it were a book it would've been a book. But as it is, she gets hold of some VHS tapes and they give her the push she needs to decide it's time for her to go. Note that the tapes in question are not exactly drawn from the top of the Sight & Sound poll — they're things like Jaws and Rocky IV. It seems as though the film is making the same kind of point about trashy pop culture that I've seen dystopian works make about corruption. Corruption is a plague upon society under normal circumstances, but in a book like Fatherland, it's good, because it means that the evil regime might rot from within. Similarly, Rocky IV is not exactly the sort of movie you want to see people imprinting on, but in Dogtooth, it's good, because it's the first thing this young woman has been able to imprint on other than her psychotic parents. Another point. Never is Rocky IV actually named as such. The daughter's mimicry makes no sense if you don't recognize the movies she's mimicking. But I saw Rocky IV a million times when I was in junior high. It was one of the few movies we had around the house, having been copied off one of the cable channels onto Betamax tape. Trashy pop culture, Dogtooth suggests, is what truly connects us to one another, is what spans the gap between Anaheim and Athens. And the film stakes its effectiveness on this notion! If you don't recognize the choreography from Flashdance, with no hints, you won't get the climax to this movie. I did get it, and the reason I got it is twofold. One, Yorgos Lanthimos and I are from the same generation, and he picked something that was from neither before nor after my time; and two, my parents let me do something that I would be very dubious about letting a nine-year-old do if I were in their shoes: watch MTV.

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