George Orwell believed that the first step toward tyranny was to brutalise language. If the prisoner-citizen cannot articulate his needs he will be more docile. DOGTOOTH opens with such a brutalisation. Three teenagers are kept prisoner by their parents in a gated house. They are taught false meanings for words; to fear vicious monsters in the outside world; and to sublimate their desires. There is no reason given for their imprisonment. Just as in 1984, power is exercised simply because it can be. The logical consequences of absolute parental control are both tragic and absurd. The teenagers are so naive they cannot recognise sexual abuse. When presented with an opportunity of escape, they cannot take initiative. But there is dark comedy too. The father asks if they would like to hear grandfather sing. He puts on a record by Frank Sinatra. The children are in doubt that this is the voice of their grandfather and nod in agreement as the father “translates” their grandfather’s words, exhorting the children to be obedient, from English into Greek.
Giorgos Lanthimos’ film is beautifully shot, logically argued, and deeply, deeply sinister. That is not to say that it is enjoyable, or that I would recommend it for everyone. I went through three phases watching the film. At first, I was intrigued by the concept but turned off by its refusal to explain and bored by watching teenagers effectively do nothing all day. And then, as the logic built upon itself and the situations became more perverse and tragic, I became hypnotised by the film. And finally, I gave in to the absurdity and found it all bleakly funny.
DOGTOOTH played Cannes 2009 where it won the Un Certain Regard award. It also played Toronto, Sitges and London 2009. It opened in Greece and France last year and in Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Russia, Norway, Portugal and the US earlier this year. It is now available on DVD and on iTunes.