Dogtooth (2009)

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Three teenagers are confined to an isolated country estate that could very well be on another planet. The trio spend their days listening to endless homemade tapes that teach them a whole new vocabulary. Any word that comes from beyond their family abode is instantly assigned a new meaning. Hence 'the sea' refers to a large armchair and 'zombies' are little yellow flowers. Having invented a brother whom they claim to have ostracized for his disobedience, the uber-controlling parents terrorize their offspring into submission.

Despite its cold and inscrutable deadpan surreality, Dogtooth invites all manner of potential interpretations: is this film about the artificiality of the nuclear family that the West insists is the benchmark of normality? Or is it, as I perhaps prefer to believe, something more visceral altogether, an allegory for the various forms of ontological violence wrought by fascism, as well a sobering nod towards some of fascism's inherent appeals?

Perhaps it is both. In 1972, French poststructuralists Gilles and FĂ©lix Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus which touches on the family unit as a metaphor for the authoritarian state. Dogtooth, starkly shot, provides no easy answers.

A father, a mother, a brother and two sisters live in a large and affluent house behind a very high wall and an always-locked gate. Only the father ever leaves the property, driving to the factory that he owns. Dogtooth goes far beyond any contemporary allusion to Josef Fritzl's cellar, as the children's education is a grotesque parody of home-schooling where the parents deliberately teach them the wrong meaning of words (e.g. a yellow flower is called a 'zombie'). All of which renders the outside world utterly meaningless and unreadable by completely mystifying its existence. It is this creepy strangeness within a 'regular' family unit that is at once socially and epistemically horrific, and I'll say more of its creepy sexual elements as well.

In his review of the DVD release for Slant, Simon Abrams starts to get to why director Lanthimos co-writer Efthymis Philippiou achieve their success:

Navigating the illogical rules that Father sets down for his family is exhilarating because [the filmmakers] are so good at denying the viewer information. Like [the] Father, Lanthimos parcels out tidbits of information not because he wants to punish us, as some have argued by comparing Lanthimos to [other filmmakers]. Instead, Lanthimos feeds us only what information he knows we need in order to protect us, or, more specifically, to further allow us to revel in the mysteries of his narrative by refusing us any sense of closure, emotional, ontological, or otherwise.

Indeed, in a delicious and plausibly deliberate piece of metatextual irony, just as the film "feeds only what information he knows we need in order to protect us", the figure of the Father within Dogtooth maps eerily onto the information disclosure policy of the authoritarian ruler.