The family that stays together, plays pretend together. At least that’s according to Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark comedy Dogtooth, which is playing this week at St. Anthony Main.
Call it an acerbic twist on the maxim “father knows best,” or call it one of the sickest, most twisted family sitcoms ever. Or just call it one of the more incisive examinations of learned behavior and the extent to which parents mold their children unto their own image.
The movie, which is Greece’s (highly Quixotic) submission for Oscar consideration, jumps into the deep end quite early on. Three adult children are shown living at home, learning vocabulary lessons from a cassette tape and playing made-up games to collect stickers.
Their stern father, played officiously by Christos Stergioglou, has his children operating entirely on a system of rewards and punishments. It doesn’t take long before it becomes painfully clear that the long-post-pubescent boy and two girls have never once been outside of the fences surrounding the family’s remote domicile.
Whenever one of the three misbehaves enough, their father threatens that their mother (played by Michelle Valley in a state of perpetual shell-shock) will have no choice but to give birth and force them to have to share their resources (and stickers) even more.
And then there’s that whole mess surrounding their burgeoning sexuality. Things get understandably messy, especially when the children start wielding knives and hammers, sneaking peaks at their parents’ videocassettes and, consequently, dancing like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.
Lanthimos films Dogtooth like B.F. Skinner gene-spliced with Luis Bunuel, as social graces are dismissed blithely and with little comment, though there’s one scene which draws an almost too on-the-nose parallel between what Stergioglou’s patriarch is doing to his children and what the rest of the world does with their pet dogs.
But for the most part, Lanthimos doesn’t operate under strict metaphors, which allows his scenario to adapt to any number of potential readings. Is what this ghoulish father and mother do to their children really that different than how most parents indoctrinate their children with their own failed aspirations, their values and their religious beliefs?
Eric Henderson is a web producer and film blogger for WCCO.COM.