If you told your kids they would not become adults until their brains started leaking out of their ears, they might start sticking things inside their facial orifices, trying to get at their brains, so they could pull them out and fly happily away from the rotten nest from which they were spawned. Lies like this have stunted generation after generation, raised on the milk of agoraphobia and narcissism, rarely knowing the exact meanings of words, wallowing in the ignorance and superstitions passed down by their parents and grand-parents until delusion became history. Is there anything crueler than telling a child that zombies are flowers? Such a child will grow up without knowing what’s what in any and all circumstances. And are these not the circumstances in which many of us have been nurtured?
The childish mind of modern man believes that war is bad but soldiers are heroic, that all of literature spins on seven plots, and that the planet upon which they live is not really part of an unstable universe in which stars explode without the accompaniment of national anthems. We are domestic cats skittering about on hot concrete who think they are in the jungle. When did the reality for which our instincts were designed get replaced with a junk necklace that garroted our basic impulses? And who were the parents who kept us at home under lock and key, creating the myth of adolescence from the denial that puberty is the birth of sexuality, until we were finally too old to fly, and crammed ourselves into suitcases and suffocated in the international mail?
As a dysfunctional family picture, “Dogtooth” isn’t quite in the same ballpark as Miike Takashi’s “Visitor Q,” but it is leagues above the forced debauchery of “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” Like Luis Bunuel, director Giorgos Lanthimos instructs his actors to behave as if everything is perfectly normal in the most surreal circumstances. The result is a film that seems to be taking place in an alternative universe that makes sense only to those living in it. And that is exactly the point. We live in a world in which each tribe creates a reality that makes sense to themselves alone. You have to be inside the familial idiocy in order to understand it.
Landthimos doesn’t provide any introduction to the family members. We watch them as Margaret Mead must have watched her first Samoans, discerning the family relationships by age, gender, and temperament. The teenaged girls at times seem like twins, except that one behaves as the older sister. When the father brings the female security guard, blindfolded, to their home to purge the teenage boy of his erotic pressures, the boy’s sexual dysfunction seems to signify his inexperience, but we learn it is actually the result of ennui. And who can blame him? He is victim to the anti-eroticism of functional sex.
“Dogtooth” opens with a lesson in vocabulary. A carbine is a beautiful white bird, the sea a leather armchair with wooden arms, the motorway a very strong wind, and excursion is the material used in the construction of floors. Recess follows, with the three teens devising a game in which they each put a finger into the flow of hot water from the bathtub faucet. The first to remove the finger loses. A subsequent game finds the sisters inhaling anesthetics. The first to wake up wins. As the home-schooling continues with blind-folded swimming practice, we begin to realize this is not a surrealist array of random events, but a series of rigidly structured routines in a well-ordered universe in which every detail is in its rightful place.
But like the vermiform appendix, the laws governing this remnant of a lost European tribe have lost their original functions and now sit shrunken like useless internal appendages that are sometimes the source of intense discomfort.