Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

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Steven H
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Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#1 Post by Steven H » Wed Aug 11, 2010 10:49 am

(Spoilers.) As a jumping off point, I'm going to quote a couple of sentences from Peter Bradshaw's Guardian review:
Dogtooth could be read as a superlative example of absurdist cinema, or possibly something entirely the reverse – a clinically, unsparingly intimate piece of psychological realism.
While I would consider the actions here perverse and awkward, I wouldn't call them "absurd" or filtered through a character's distorted perception (though they may be a distorted in an allegorical way). I think this film can be considered realistic as the behaviors are logical and thoroughly explained if you take the premise: children raised in a world where they are constantly competing against one another for even the smallest of emotional rewards. Making their every moment a game and perfection the goal is what eventually leads to the acts of bizarre sex and self mutilation, not the infiltration of outside ideas as the father was lead to believe. The viewer may expect this as well since the "headband incident" appears to start the ball rolling, but really the headband could only be introduced through one of their games and any other way of having this exchange would have seemed absurd.

What the father didn't realize (and I think the film showed his confusion within one of last shots where he just gazes out into the darkness) was that by setting up these rules he was changing the way the family unit essentially operates from an ideal love / nurture relationship to that of compete / control. The subservient actions create the pecking order, like pets licking their master when they want attention. The older sister being chosen for sex by a competing younger brother, but why did he choose her? Because in their compete / control world sex has already been introduced as a form of domination and while she had continually dominated him, this was his chance to get over on her in a big way. The Bruce Lee quoting moment that follows this scene is not the daughter seeking escape into the outside world, but merely using it to voice what she already knows, that the sex was a competition (that she lost) and an act of violence against her (what does it matter to them about incest?)
Peter Bradshaw wrote:It is a film about the essential strangeness of something society insists is the benchmark of normality: the family, a walled city state with its own autocratic rule and untellable secrets.
I agree with this and think that the film is an attack on parochial value systems (who would argue?) The "essential strangeness" contrasted with percieved "normality" is important as it paints the family as having a naive morality in the beginning which becomes more and more horribly wrong as the film progresses. I'm not sure if this film should be read as a larger political allegory the way The Village is or something more intimate like the Haneke examples Bradshaw gives a few times. Anyway, this probably sounds like a bunch of bullshit but I just wanted to get the ball rolling.

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Ruby
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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#2 Post by Ruby » Thu Aug 19, 2010 12:17 pm

I appreciate where your going but I don't think this film is worth that much effort.

It’s the essence of a funny story – moody teenagers as toddlers – married to the big-brother concept - lock them in a house to see what happens. Unfortunately, it becomes tedious to watch scene after scene of infantilised and increasingly violent behaviour presided over by psychological prototypes (a warm mother figure deferential to the stern father figure).

Dogtooth is well made. So the shocking violence is really shocking and the stupid/absurd behaviour is really stupid/absurd. But it’s as superficially meaningful as Big Brother with its unstable contestants and silly tasks.

If the parents were fleshed out characters rather than prototypes of the traditional family, the film might have had more substance. Surely one of the most persistently uncomfortable themes emerging from Europe in the past decade has been the abuse of children by mothers and fathers. While it’s practically illegal to lightly slap the buggers on the bum in public, those social constraints are removed in the privacy of the home (or dungeon if you live in Austria or fridge-freezer is you’re an unfortunate foetus in Germany). Some of our ingrained beliefs about the parent-child, especially mother-child, relationship have been quashed. It’s a can of worms but this film goes for the easy open can of shocking sex and violence.

As for the ending...

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James Mills
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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#3 Post by James Mills » Mon Dec 13, 2010 1:15 am

Unsettling and disturbing, I'm not quite sure what to think of Dogtooth. Perhaps it's claiming that sexuality leads to liberation? Or is it as simple as questioning the level of control and systemic structure that we invoke onto our offspring? Or perhaps it doesn't mean anything at all? I don't have anything clever to write here. If nothing else, the film is unforgettable.

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Alan Smithee
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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#4 Post by Alan Smithee » Mon Dec 13, 2010 12:38 pm

I see it more as a sort of stream of consciousness writing on a predetermined subject. It's not that it doesn't mean anything at all, just that the makers weren't placing one specific meaning on it and I don't believe even had one in mind. The film comes off as a screenplay that they allowed to run wild and then attempted to make seem very real through the mise-en-scene. It has a lot in common with Lucille Hadzihalilovic's Innocence.

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James Mills
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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#5 Post by James Mills » Mon Dec 13, 2010 2:54 pm

Alan Smithee wrote:I see it more as a sort of stream of consciousness writing on a predetermined subject. It's not that it doesn't mean anything at all, just that the makers weren't placing one specific meaning on it and I don't believe even had one in mind. The film comes off as a screenplay that they allowed to run wild and then attempted to make seem very real through the mise-en-scene. It has a lot in common with Lucille Hadzihalilovic's Innocence.
That's interesting and entirely plausible, as I can definitely see the idea whimsically coming up and then diving right in since it's obviously a very fresh, provocative premise in the first place.

I read somewhere last night that claimed it was an "obvious" allegory to the international oppression of Western countries over second and third world countries. I can also definitely see that, but I certainly don't think it's obvious...

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zedz
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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#6 Post by zedz » Mon Dec 13, 2010 4:19 pm

By the same token, it's an 'obvious' allegory of a dozen or so different, and likely contradictory, things. I'm not convinced that its critique is directed at one specific instance of hegenomy or more overt control, and it seems to me all the more interesting for that. I do agree with the poster who shall remain nameless that it seems like the filmmakers hit upon a powerful idea / model (which they were well aware had all sort of allegorical potential) and focussed on elaborating that idea into a coherent fiction rather than reinforcing any particular angle of the allegory, making the final film an exploration of its issues in the abstract. And I agree that Innocence seems to work in a similar way: establish a matrix of intriguing real-world parallels at the conceptual level, but then focus on turning your alegory into the mechanical facsimile of an inhabitable world, wind it up and see where it leads you.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#7 Post by Nothing » Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:54 pm

Found this to be an utterly hollow attempt at provocation, from a director who needs to build up some life experience before returning to such subject matter, so it's good to know that zedz and myself still disagree on something :)

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zedz
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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#8 Post by zedz » Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:17 am

You're not going to get away with it that easily, Nothing. I might actually agree with you if I saw it again, since my only viewing to date resulted in a sort of reserved judgement, since I wasn't convinced that the execution was up to the conception. And I wasn't convinced that the conception was as fully worked through as it should have been - which, as noted above, could be a strength rather than a weakness. Still, provocation with ideas is better than provocation without.
Nothing wrote:[the] director [. . .] needs to build up some life experience before returning to such subject matter
This could indeed be it. There's a certain callowness in the execution. On the other hand, realism seems like quite the wrong tack to take with this material, so I'm quite happy to accept Dogtooth on its own terms and look forward to what the filmmakers decide to do next.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#9 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Feb 06, 2011 3:21 pm

I just watched this film, and never felt like I was being provoked for provocation's sake, despite the film's increasingly disturbing events. While there are some films for which ambiguous and/or stream-of-consciousness storytelling do nothing good (Gommorah, anyone?), this is one that benefits from letting things play out and not telling us its story too deliberately. Armondian reference time: this is everything that The Village should have been.

I still feel like I'm in that creepy house, and I'm not sure what kind of earthly delight will allow me to shake that feeling, especially in the dead of winter. I shall remain cooped up in my apartment, trying to wonder up epilogues to Dogtooth, and trying not to think much more about it, simultaneously.

Late edit: Oh shit, I didn't even realize that the OP had already referenced The Village. I guess it might not have been so Armondian after all.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#10 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Thu Feb 17, 2011 12:26 am

mfunk9786 wrote:I still feel like I'm in that creepy house, and I'm not sure what kind of earthly delight will allow me to shake that feeling, especially in the dead of winter.
I'm also having trouble forgetting that house. This was almost as creepy as Salo. As an exercise in atmosphere - the widescreen, the spare use of music, the uninflected acting, the lighting, and the use of white throughout the scenes - I feel that the film certainly succeeded. The successful mix of satire and black humor certainly helped as well. The ambiguity of the exact satiric target helps more than hinders the film, but I'll just pretend that Lanthimos knows certain fundamentalist Christians in SC and wanted to paint a decent caricature of them. I wasn't prepared for the cat violence and dental harm, but those elements fade somewhat more quickly unlike some of the more borderline disturbing/hilarious parts: the "dog barking", the abuse by VCR/VHS, the speech about the dangers of cats, the announcement of the brother's "death", the dance near the end, and the "pregnancy". (Or outright hilarious as the Sinatra scene comes to mind.) I'm coming to grips with how OTT yet restrained much of the film was. I found it quite fascinating. I can't say that I found it provocative just for the sake of it either. The sexual elements of the film couldn't have been less arousing or attractive and the violence came in sharp bursts and subsided slowly as the pace and feel of the film made those outbursts more shocking. I'm sure there as many interpretations as there are viewers, but the attention paid to this film doesn't seem unwarranted.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#11 Post by yipyop » Thu Feb 17, 2011 11:31 am

Dogtooth's overall theme impresses me, especially in how far Lanthimos cranks "family values" to 11, but that's about it. Much of the acting and "arty" framing kept me from fully investing in it. I'm unsure if the vague sense of interior space is meant to be disorienting or just careless continuity. And there's most certainly a Greek political subtext escaping me which reduces my appreciation as well.

The sudden unresolved ending is brave and thought-provoking. I enjoy it much more than do other people I've talked to who find it lazy and unfulfilling. But I must admit to preferring Bad Boy Bubby (strange how these isolated family movies always feature cat torture scenes) simply for showing us the character's reaction to the outside world — and even more, its reaction to him. The entirety of Dogtooth could be Bubby's first act, and the self-contained case study left me lacking.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#12 Post by HistoryProf » Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:09 pm

Watched this last night, and aside from not being able to get that damned dance out of my head, I simply don't know what to think about it all other than it was one of the most surreal and disturbing cinematic experiences of my life. I confess I couldn't nail down what allegory the director was after, though wondered if it was some sort of Fascist theme - or colonialism maybe.

I guess i'll have to think on it for a bit, but my initial impression is that it's well made, visually disturbing, but a bit too obtuse and the ending was indeed lazy rather than thought-provoking. But i also tend to needing some shred of closure to cling to so I often feel that way when films end abruptly. dunno on this one....it's a trip for sure.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#13 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Feb 21, 2011 12:30 am

Honestly, while I respect your opinion, I cannot think of a better ending for this film.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#14 Post by James » Mon Feb 21, 2011 12:44 pm

Yeah, what else were you looking for, HistoryProf? It seemed to end at an okay spot to me... certainly a foreboding shot too, don't you think?

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#15 Post by HistoryProf » Mon Feb 21, 2011 1:08 pm

It was certainly foreboding...I tried to qualify that last bit though more as a fault of mine than anything - i've always had an issue of dissatisfaction with films that end like this one did. it's my literal nature and need for closure. hence the "BUT" after saying it felt lazy...it just did to ME because I needed something to grab on to for some sense of where it was going after, which the filmmaker does not provide. That's a constant struggle for me in my self-education in cinema, and one i've had the hardest time shaking. dunno why. again, i think i'm too literal sometimes. But when a film stays with me like this one did, I know its on to something....I just can't quite figure out what with this one.

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James Mills
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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#16 Post by James Mills » Mon Feb 21, 2011 2:40 pm

I agree that it was foreboding, but I don't see how it was provocative. I'm not sure if "lazy" is fair, but to me it didn't add anything to the plot or shed a different view on any of the events that preceded it (or will succeed it), so I guess I had a problem with it in that sense too.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#17 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Feb 21, 2011 2:42 pm

I just can't even imagine what would have improved upon it. Adding any more additional content past the final shot would diminish the whole film.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#18 Post by JeanRZEJ » Sun Mar 13, 2011 6:33 pm

yipyop wrote:Dogtooth's overall theme impresses me, especially in how far Lanthimos cranks "family values" to 11, but that's about it. Much of the acting and "arty" framing kept me from fully investing in it. I'm unsure if the vague sense of interior space is meant to be disorienting or just careless continuity. And there's most certainly a Greek political subtext escaping me which reduces my appreciation as well.

The sudden unresolved ending is brave and thought-provoking. I enjoy it much more than do other people I've talked to who find it lazy and unfulfilling. But I must admit to preferring Bad Boy Bubby (strange how these isolated family movies always feature cat torture scenes) simply for showing us the character's reaction to the outside world — and even more, its reaction to him. The entirety of Dogtooth could be Bubby's first act, and the self-contained case study left me lacking.
I think part of the aim of Dogtooth is to provide these 'lacks' in order to shift the normal focus. As opposed to merely being 'arty', I think the framing is deliberately contradicting typical film grammar. I think he is deliberately aiming to prevent audience investment in the characters, and further exacerbates this point by having all of the actors act in a very stilted manner. Not only are there very few 'reaction shots' in Dogtooth, many of the shots prevent you from being able to judge a character's reaction at all. Given that the film is very carefully constructed I think it this is meaningful, which is to say that the characters' reactions are not meaningful. I have conflicting ideas about the result of these choices, although I think the conflict may merely enhance the effect of the film and prove the stylistic choices to be even more brilliant. Consider: the beginning of the film contains little to no violence towards the humans, and the first instance of violence against a person is very quick. The violence against the kitten is absurd, certainly walking the border between disturbingly absurd and comedically absurd. This sequence actually contains one of the few reaction shots, with the girls screaming in unison. This is one of the few times where we are able to really enter the minds of the characters through reading their expressions, and it begins to establish the contradiction between the way events seem from the outside and from the inside. Toward the end this dramatic irony dissipates and what is troubling from the inside is also troubling from the outside. This comes back to the contradiction: the initial distance prevents audience identification, thus providing the comic distance which provides the dramatic irony, but at the same time the later events are disturbing to the viewer (or at least they were for me), but not vicariously, due to the lack of character identification, but simply on account of the troubling nature of viewing violence without dramatic irony. As such, for me, the film achieves both comedic distance and dramatic immediacy (even moreso than had I vicariously experienced the violence through identifying with the character) through the same methods, two seemingly contradictory methods which are achieved through the same means. To me, this is very interesting on the level of dramatic construction. Through the film's style I experienced both comedic dramatic irony and the direct experience of those same violent elements without really focusing on the tragedy of the characters, and as such it becomes a very direct and visceral experience of the dimensions of portrayed violence without ever becoming mired in the implications of vicarious character identification. It takes a pretty brilliant construction to achieve these elements, I think. This is all on the level of the dramatic mode - not merely construction or content but a manipulation of the way that the audience experiences that which is shown. In many ways it is a distinct form from tragedy, tragicomedy, and comedy, so I think it's understandable that you felt a particular way that you would not have felt in any of those other forms, but I don't think this is a bad thing. In fact, I think it takes a great deal of restraint and careful choices to achieve the feeling you experienced, and for me that lack of identification achieved an experience and its accompanying implications that would have been impossible in a more familiar mode.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#19 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Mar 21, 2011 1:55 pm

SpoilerShow
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#20 Post by domino harvey » Sun May 22, 2011 1:09 am

Dogtooth is a good practical example in the importance of consistent tone (and a good contrast, by pure chance, to my earlier argument praising the Lovely Bones for not having a consistent tone). The premise is intriguing and could work in either extreme to serve the same point, re: the dangers of overprotecting one's child: either as a worst case scenario horror story or a straight-out comedy. The film tries to be both-- so instead of provoking thought, it provokes disdain. Such a grab-bag alternation makes the jokes at the expense of the siblings mean-spirited and cruel, and the violence and inherent tragedy in their situation comes across as grotesque and repulsive. The film comes from a place of very loathsome superiority that I'm unconvinced it ever earns.

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#21 Post by JeanRZEJ » Mon May 23, 2011 12:49 am

domino harvey wrote:Dogtooth is a good practical example in the importance of consistent tone (and a good contrast, by pure chance, to my earlier argument praising the Lovely Bones for not having a consistent tone). The premise is intriguing and could work in either extreme to serve the same point, re: the dangers of overprotecting one's child: either as a worst case scenario horror story or a straight-out comedy. The film tries to be both-- so instead of provoking thought, it provokes disdain. Such a grab-bag alternation makes the jokes at the expense of the siblings mean-spirited and cruel, and the violence and inherent tragedy in their situation comes across as grotesque and repulsive. The film comes from a place of very loathsome superiority that I'm unconvinced it ever earns.
I found it to be a classic example of the tragic farce, a structure which is very common and which I think is greatly aided by the very, very unrealistic performances in the film. For me the film provoked purely thought, not an ounce of disdain. The jokes that are at the expense of very unrealistic characters are not mean-spirited, then, because the characters are so obviously unreal. You loathe the film because you take the characters as if they were people, not characters, and the film goes to great lengths in performance and framing to create distance between the audience and the viewer. It may be possible that with human actors playing the roles you cannot ever achieve this distance, but I don't think you should overlook the fact that there are a great many aesthetic choices made to create this distance which would, theoretically, render your complaints irrelevant and mold exactly the type of situation which would provoke thought rather than disdain. In the end the film may not work for you, but I think if you watched it again you might be convinced otherwise and find a way to appreciate the film and the ways in which its aesthetic is constructed in such a way to minimize the effects you speak of. They are powerful effects, though, and in the end it will depend on your own ability to achieve distance from human characters, I would suspect. You seem to allow for the possibility that the underlying story, which is surely provocational, could be handled in a sensible manner, and I think there are a great many steps taken in that direction which perhaps were overshadowed by other elements. Even the static long takes should theoretically allow for some distance in contrast to handheld closeups of emoting faces which are so often used in cinema to signal a situation which demands empathy. But, again, it's a perilous route, so while I think Lanthimos succeeds wildly and with a great deal of care and cleverness it may not work for you in the end.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#22 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon May 23, 2011 12:52 am

Maybe it's not my taste, humor-wise, but I didn't get the impression that Dogtooth was trying to be funny very often, beyond the given that the situation being portrayed is inherently bizarre. Although I suppose I can see how someone would read it as trying to be funny, in which case it would be the most obnoxious film imaginable. I'm really glad it doesn't come off that way to me, because I genuinely love it.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#23 Post by JeanRZEJ » Tue May 31, 2011 1:11 am

mfunk9786 wrote:Maybe it's not my taste, humor-wise, but I didn't get the impression that Dogtooth was trying to be funny very often, beyond the given that the situation being portrayed is inherently bizarre. Although I suppose I can see how someone would read it as trying to be funny, in which case it would be the most obnoxious film imaginable. I'm really glad it doesn't come off that way to me, because I genuinely love it.
Humor is a broad enough term to encapsulate a broad range of potentialities, certainly not just flippant amusement. I elaborated above on the way in which I find the film's variant of humor to be used within the film, but I would certainly say that the first half is far less tight-fisted than the latter half which serves to make the dance scene stand out all the more starkly. If laughter is a mechanism evolved for the purpose of relieving social tension then I see absolutely no conflict in saying that the film's content tends towards the conditions whereby a person would be provoked to laugh, and I certainly think that the film works to make that release of tension as difficult as possible - and that is the very definition of black humor given by J.L. Styan. It's a natural human reaction. And it's anything but flippant.

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Re: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

#24 Post by ElusiveTrash » Sun Dec 27, 2015 7:42 pm

Excuse me for butting in. I had noticed some others thoughts about the film and it's meaning/message. I don't have much to say for it myself except that I liked the film. But, what I really wanted to say was this, considering I dated an Athenian Greek for over two years, and we watched this movie together. She had told me that the director based it off of a cultural "issue" that is common among Greeks, which is that they are often extremely overbearing, over-protective, and controlling of their children. I kind of took this film as somewhat of an extremist/hyperbolic take on the matter. If I remember correctly, this was apparently something that Yorgos Lanthimos talked about himself when the film was released, or so I was told by my ex-girlfriend, whose first language was Greek, not English. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet as I only started to read through the top 5 messages on this thread. Anyway, if this hasn't been brought up... here it is... maybe this helps? I'm out.

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