Dogtooth at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Kynodontas (Dogtooth). I suspected so, and sort-of confirmed when I checked Google's Language Tools: Kynodontas is the phonetic spelling of Κυνόδοντας which means "bicuspid" or what we'd usually call the "canine tooth". Breaking things down a bit, σκύλος is "dog", but κυνικός is "canine" and δόντι is "tooth" so it appears to me that the Greek is, as in English, literally "canine tooth". But in a way, calling the film "Dogtooth" makes more sense — the whole premise of the film is as if social customs were "translated" to another language then back again, repeating until no further changes happen.

The Dryden calendar describes the film as a "jet-black comedy about sexual repression". Their write-up implies that the universe where the film takes place is essentially the same as our own, and that the depicted family is highly unusual. I took away that the universe of the film is represented by the family — that the family is more a typical family than anything else. Since almost the entirety of the film is within the family's securely secluded compound of a home, there's little evidence to support either case.

The title comes from the notion that the central couple's two daughters and son must wait for a "dogtooth" to fall out before they are permitted to leave the compound. In the mean time, the family has fabricated games, they lie about language to their children (i.e. a "zombie" is a small yellow flower), and the outside world is said to be inhospitable and dangerous. But the story is told in an extremely dry fashion: as if it's all just a day-in-the-life of any family, with all the mundane details. Except, of course, that the behavior is so strange to us as to be disturbing — the father hires a woman at his workplace to engage in ritualistic, loveless sex with his son, for instance.

I saw the film in two ways. First was that it represented an example of fundamentalist logic. The father was the only one permitted to leave, and he provided for all the family's needs, and supplied all their information as he saw fit. Second, and more strongly, I felt it was just as bizarre as an outside culture may see how we live.

As it is, I spend a lot of time frustrated with the status quo and how it goes against logic, reason, and goodness. How can it be, for instance, that a person can be killed by a car and it's likely they will be blamed for it? Is it not the driver's responsibility to be in total control of their machine? It seems that an outside culture would be horrified to learn that we think this is okay.

The film just flooded me with more of the same. Has anyone ever killed a spider, bee, or snake for no logical reason other than we learned at an early age that these things are evil or dangerous? Can you think of a time when your parent (or you as a parent) ever told a child a lie about what a word means because they weren't "ready" to understand it yet? And what of all the myths that are passed off as fact in this supposed time of reason? — cell phones never caused a gas station fire (it's the static charge from getting into and out of the car), and insisting that patrons wear shoes does not make a restaurant more sanitary, to name a couple.

I will add that the film stirred quite a bit of controversy (and discussion).  Several people walked out during the screening, and almost as many people hated it as loved it.  One factor was some of the more shocking and visceral scenes which (curiously enough) depicted sex or violence. Another was the patriarchal, totalitarian state of affairs within the household. And the lack of comedy to many people's sensibilities. So it's definitely not for everyone, and not a whimsical film to enjoy on a rainy afternoon. At least not for everyone.

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