Netflix Finds is an ongoing series of reviews of movies I stumbled across on Netflix Instant. This installment: Dogtooth (2009).
This one is hardly unknown, as Dogtooth, a Greek film, won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009 and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars, but it had passed under my radar until I saw it tonight. This is a terrific, challenging, disturbing film that is well worth your time, but it’s also one that benefits greatly from fresh eyes and open expectations, so readers who haven’t seen it and plan to should consider everything after this sentence to be mildly spoilerish. I’ve posted the trailer below and it gives a good peak into the film, though I have my usual reservations about the trailer giving too much away, particularly one act of shocking violence.
Dogtooth depicts a closed, hermetic, toxic world — two parents who have raised their three children (two girls and a boy) into early adulthood completely shut off from the outside world’s “bad influences.” Their homeschooling efforts have consisted of a mishmash of nonsense and magical thinking — the parents employ anything they need to in order to keep the kids from questing too deeply into forbidden knowledge, which for them is pretty much anything beyond the high walls of their plush but sterile compound. So the airplanes that fly over their heads are toys that occasionally fall into the garden to be collected as a prize by the quickest child, while a ‘telephone’ is a salt shaker and a ‘sea’ is a chair, etc. It’s systemic closure taken to its most absurd and debased conclusion.
The most obvious corollary in the US would be lunatic Bible-thumping home-schoolers or perhaps a compound of neo-Nazi survivalists, but I think the film resonates equally well to any great truth we as parents try to shield from our children, and what’s great about Dogtooth is that director Yorgos Lanthimos, who also wrote the screenplay, does not have an ideological axe to grind: the parents in the story don’t espouse any particular political or religious views. They simply want to raise their kids completely separate from the corrupting influence of the broader culture. Another aspect I liked is that Lanthimos provides no exposition — the viewer is forced to create all of the film’s backstory, to essentially piece together from stray bits of dialogue the parents’ motives for all this wackiness. It’s all complicated by the fact that they’re basically loving parents, genuinely interested in teaching their children right from wrong. Except when they’re not. It’s complicated. Really complicated. And fucked up. Oh god is it fucked up.
Reviewers called it a black comedy but I’m not sure that’s right, nor is it quite a satire. I’m not actually sure what it is, other than a glimpse into a toxic, alien world (it’s almost dystopian sci fi, I just realized), where the overwhelming desire to create a true, straight thing out of the crooked timber of humanity leads inevitably to sickness, decay, and depravity.