Saturday, 12 February 2011

Look Closer: Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

Hristos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni in Dogtooth (2009)

Following my first viewing of Dogtooth yesterday I was left with dozens of unanswered questions, and certainly as many emotions. In my closing paragraph I stated that this is a film which demands to be re-visited often, in order to become familiar with its world, explore its themes and pick up on finer, subtler details. So that's exactly what I've done, and here are some of the more definite conclusions I've made...

The first thing that occurred to me was the chain guard which barricades the house off from the outside. It seems to be located in a remote region, considering how far Father has to drive to work each day, and the one exterior shot of the car - speeding along a barren hillside path - makes it clear that the family demand privacy. But the barricade signifies something bigger. It is made quite clear that Mother and Father don't want the children to escape, but there would be no need for a chain guard that far on the outside, as anyone walking - or running - away from the house could easily maneuver it. A car coming in from the outside, however, would have more difficulty. It seems that Mother and Father also want to keep people from coming in, and considering the few scenes with side-characters (the dog trainer, for example) we could conclude that outside life is, in our sense of the word, normal. Certainly the family lie about who they are. Why? It seems a stretch, and an unfounded one, but are the children perhaps some kind of experiment? There is certainly a strict regime that needs to be followed. For example, nobody must be awake past 11pm.

This led me to speculating about Father's job, as his unspecific workplace is only visualized by towering blocks of warehouses on what looks like an abandoned industrial estate. There are a lot of exterior shots of the factory but very few from inside, and the product being manufactured looks (from what I can tell) like pipe and stone. This could be further confirmed by a discovery I made while playing the film in slow-motion. When Father is talking with his colleague (who seems to be using a Windows XP system) we can glimpse the man holding a black pamphlet, with a purple pyramid on the front and the word KEOPE. One Google search later and I find a website for KEOPE, with the matching symbol. Some of the site seems to be unfinished, but it looks to have something to do with construction and land development. They have lots of affiliates, some of them green environmental companies. The sites do look decidedly amateur, however, and reveal little information... or do they? Given we now know what Father does for a living, and we have seen very little else of where the family live, could it be safe to assume that the town itself is under construction? It's a quiet, desolate place, and as I stated in my previous review, Godless. I was very careful to look out for religious imagery or conversation on my second watch but the film is totally void of it. The only creators are the parents - they are changing the rules of evolution and falsely re-establishing language. The metaphor here still exists with the dog trainer, who says to Father: "Dogs are like clay. And our job here is to mold them... every dog is waiting for us to show them how to behave... do we want a guard who will respect us as his masters and do unhesitatingly whatever we ask of him?"

Then there is the idea that violence begets violence; that the mental torture exercised by the parents is the direct cause for the children's physical violence - for example, the youngest son hitting his knee with a hammer and blaming it on a cat. The parent's lies and manipulation give the kids a scapegoat, and something to hide the result of their impulses behind. This ultimately demonstrates that their closeted system of protection doesn't work, and hiding the outside world doesn't make the inside any safer, or healthier. The film's political allegory is probably an extension of this idea, but for me the film is far more engaging when experimenting within its own hermetic world. I enjoyed Dogtooth much more this time, although I'm not sure I'll ever feel comfortable with it. Actually, I'm not sure I'm supposed to...

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