Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dogtooth's Infinite Allegories

Posted By on Tue, Dec 28, 2010 at 12:43 PM

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The Best Of lists are finished; the polls, voted in. But Henry Stewart is still scrambling to catch up with some of the movies he missed in 2010, at least so he can tell you whether to bump them up in your queue or feel guilt-free for deleting them. Today, he discusses Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, which, he believes, is the only Greek movie he has ever seen.

What if someone rewrote The Village so that instead of terrible, it was engaging, challenging, maybe a little mysterious? In Dogtooth, three semiologically scrambled children have been raised in a fortified, isolated house where they're taught that "telephone" means salt shaker and "sea" means arm chair. They exercise, re-watch home videos of themselves, and test each other's endurance (e.g., how long can you keep your finger under boiling water?). And the boy, at least, has mechanical intercourse with an outsider, a prostitute, brought in by their mad industrialist father.

You've heard of the Choose Your Own Adventure books? This is Choose Your Own Allegory. Its ground-level widescreen rarely looks up, and often chops heads out of the frame. It's like a poker-faced aesthetic—looking straight ahead, without expression—but the abstruseness begs to be given shape. Aggressively cryptic and fascinatingly opaque, Dogtooth could be, oh, I don't know, about home schooling! Or, Grecian systems of patriarchy, or about how sexual ignorance begets deviant sexual expression. (In my notes, I even wrote that it could be about the "infinite narcissism of social networking websites," though even I'm not sure what I meant.) In his review, The L's Mark Asch suggests there's something about filmmaking in there, too. If I really had to pick, though, I'd say it's a movie that lays bare the perils of isolationism, how an alienation from other cultures makes you wind up being borderline retarded, intellectually and socially. At bare minimum, the movie elucidates why man set up civilizations, with cultures and, you know, recorded histories. The weird world of Dogtooth is what it looks like when people live with no past—with no context.

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