Friday, February 11, 2011
Cast: Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou
Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Runtime: 94 min.
Verdict: The best and probably the most libertarian political allegory to come out in a while.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Dogtooth could be best described as Ms. Arundhati Roy’s view of our country’s establishment. It could also be described, as I would chose to, as to how impossible such an establishment would be. I mean, you can only choose between having a sinister and brilliant corporal state that is making devious plans in the night while we sleep blissfully or watch movies, or a set of folks not that bothered or motivated, or a set of folks trying real hard. Not all. I mean, even folks who wrote the Bible had God create an acre of paradise, and even he couldn’t stop knowledge from slithering in. So if Ms. Roy’s views are true, then the nation is heading for a collapse in the not too distant future. Egyptians, here we come.
Okay, enough of those shenanigans. But Dogtooth could be used as an argument for criticisms against post-wikileaks democracies, and how a democratic government is a contradiction by itself for every democracy is merely a masked authoritarian. I mean, I personally don’t mind all that much, and probably in fact support it. We all need a class monitor to discipline us from time to time. And yet, Dogtooth tells a lot about the inherent contradiction between the obvious effectiveness of Pavlovian techniques and the nigh impossibility of maintaining the inertness of Aristotle’s cave (important read as always: Michael Sicinski’s review). Someday somebody will find his way into that cave, just as people found their way onto the American shore, just as those women found out their way into those neo-zombies in The Descent, and just as the world found out about Korean cinema and Kim Ki-Young’s Hanyo and probably addressed the tone of the remake. And although the complete truth might not always reveal itself, it probably has a way of making its presence felt.
But then conditioning is one of the great facts of our existence. Dogtooth is probably an experiment, and the name of Michael Haneke will crop up as a usual suspect, especially after The White Ribbon. But then, Haneke is sure as hell about his theory, and Dogtooth is about its own complete failure as a theory. The one true precedent to be found, is Manoj Night Shyamalan’s The Village, which is an even more perverse film than this one here, and one that discovered through its Aronofsky-style metaphor of a blind girl that pure vacuum is impossible to create and impossible to maintain. A man and his utterly submissive wife in what is a completely patriarchal establishment home-school a family of three kids, one son and two daughters, in the hope not to have them fly out of the nest one day and make their own world but consider these walls a planet unto itself. The kids have never been outside, think a zombie is a yellow flower and consider Frank Sinatra’s voice as their grandfather’s. The are exactly the cavemen in Aristotle’s experiment, except that Mr. Lanthimos understands that there is no better cave than the house, and the first establishment we face is the parents. The son’s sexual needs are catered by a woman (an employee from the father’s factory), while curiously the sisters are left licking away their needs. It’s a strange world we live in.
But strange how, and strange why? There’ve been plenty of reactions that have sneered at Dogtooth’s extremities, and perversities, yet few seem to have understood the questions the film poses. The Village made us into one of those who were inside the cave, only to come up with some seventh grade essay on the corruption of society and what not as a license to unleash a completely authoritarian government of its own, which was much like those machines in The Matrix. In many ways, The Village is a film that is about classic conservatism which positions (panders) itself expecting a libertarian response from us, which frankly is the problem with, if not every, most of the establishments within the world – be it governments, people, cultures, film industries, or as in this case, a patriarch.
My good friend Gaurang has recently moved to the United States, and he recounts one latest incident. While he was buying his furniture the shop owner, an American, expressed his astonishment at our arranged marriages where we marry someone we have barely met (often seen), and still indulge in sex the wedding night with that near stranger. For an American it is an incomprehensible cultural extreme. For us, it is a part of our culture. A culture, a government and parenting, as Sicinski so brilliantly puts in his review, always follows an internal logic, a logic that in all probability will be scoffed from the outside.
Dogtooth, thus, places us on the outside, thus asking us not to be Aristotle’s cavemen, but spectators. You know, those very spectators who two months ago had absolutely no idea if Hosni Mubarak was the President of Egypt or Algeria, or if he was the Prime Minister, or what he stood for, and are now indulging in all the armchair celebration at the military taking over the Egyptian establishment, or those very spectators who so self-righteously claimed that the CPC is a sort of tyrannical regime. Mr. Lanthimos comprises his film mostly of quite rigid framing, where despite the action, the camera and the focus remain at the same point throughout the length of the scene, and there is no shot-reverse shot routine. And yet, at a select few moments, moments where the humanity is trying to seep in, he uses the more emotional aesthetics – of a handheld camera, of pans – aesthetics that betray that inherent human being, both behind the establishment (patriarch) and the experiment (Mr. Lanthimos himself). Yes, Dogtooth is a giant experiment, an amusing experiment, where the rats are not the characters but us, the spectators. It is our reactions that lend meaning to the film, and the nature of those reactions to the mock conservatism on display betrays our inherent conservative. The amusing part is because of us, the same sneer/astonishment/condescension I mention above.
Let me, dear reader, pull another little question for you. Remember your reaction to the ending frame of Inception, and your wish for that top to fall. You never were satisfied with his satisfaction of his reality, you wanted your judgment of reality to be shared by him. One might feel like bringing Orwell’s 1984 (and other such works) into perspective, and how we take pride in the knowledge we have and expect everyone to have that knowledge. Information is probably everything. In the final shot, which is just about as brilliant as the moment in Inception, and which raises the similar questions, Mr. Lanthimos arrests us in our reaction. Do we understand the girl’s plight? Do we understand that her reality is probably different from us? Who says our reality is right, and even if it is, are we even concerned the emotional and cultural shock the girl would receive. Do we expect her to accept our reality? Do we expect conservative, orthodox cultures to accept our urban ways? When we were once discussing the freedom to wear what we feel like, my wife (who does wear skirts and shorts) once observed a fantastic little thing about the more orthodox kind, who would wear, say, only a burkha, or wear only traditional Indian outfits (whatever that means). She said, that if one of them were given the freedom to wear anything, they wouldn’t prefer it and instead would indulge in condescension of those who do, just as she (my wife) would when she sees a woman smoking. Mr. Lanthimos’ film sort of exposes the hell out of us. We all judge, and we’re all judged. I sure as hell am wrong in some way here, because I seem to be ignoring the privilege of information we wish everyone should share, a topic and a discussion starter I guess. So I wonder if a man as pure and compassionate as Spider Baby’s Bruno can ever exist.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 11:00 PM