—Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s Republic
In a Buñuel-meets-Plato fever dream, Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2009 film Dogtooth churns the messy pot of human nature, serving us up questions about our behaviors and which are inherent and which are learned. Employing the all-familiar structure of the husband/wife/2.5 kids household, he creates an eerie landscape that, while not necessarily designed to incite fear, crawls under your skin and will for sure make you feel all kinds of icky. A beautifully crafted feat of alienation, Dogtooth watches like some breed of science fiction puppet show. Human characteristics are exaggerated and surrealized, the cast having expertly captured the gross feeling of the uncanny. A game of tension, Dogtooth puts the audience in the precarious position of watching a household structure—one that carries a lifetime of baggage with it—all but explode.
Bound to their home as prisoners, the siblings have no cultural footing beyond their own reflections. In the gaps that would normally be filled with outside stimulus, we encounter animalistic behavior, antisocial tendencies, and violence. To tick away at the closed system, Yorgos composes a series of crescendoing interventions and, like the tectonic plates of the Ring of Fire, the foundations and values of the household begin to crumble, becoming more and more disconcerting and removed from either reality. And while this all sounds super dark and uncomfortable, the movie is actually laugh out loud funny. It does a very good job of making even basic human movement distant and weird to us. To further soften his icy point of view, Lanthimos contrasts the seriousness of his proposition with beautiful cinematography and absurd situations that help keep you out of Sad Territory.
Christina is an especially interesting character. Treated much like a submissive by Papa, Christina waits to exact her authority on his three naive children in moments of privacy. In an almost power-hungry way, she begins to exchange goods from the outside world for sexual favors from Papa’s eldest daughter. The most subversive of these goods are three VHS tapes: Jaws, Flashdance, and Rocky IV. Finally with outside stimulus and three stories of heroism, the eldest daughter can see the flaws of their environment and recognizes the boundaries they had once accepted to be solid and supporting are in fact transparent and permeable: sliding glass doors instead of mirrors. However, unable to fully dismiss the mythology of her parents, the eldest must play her father’s game to find a way to escape.
As a more contemporary, perverted Allegory of the Cave, Dogtooth asks a lot of us, and insists on not really doing any of the work as far as demystification goes. Unlike The Lobster, which helps its viewers along with an awkward voice over, Dogtooth totally abandons us in its universe and doesn’t really give a shit if we figure our way out or not. I almost wish The Lobster had more of this ambiguity and trusted the viewer more, instead of building to one, pretty flat twist. Dogtooth’s whole story is knotted to the point of defying analysis and that’s what makes it so exciting.