Dogtooth – Day Two – #40movies40days
Last night I saw Dogtooth, the 2011 Academy Award nominated Best Foreign Language Film from Greece. There’s going to be no rhyme or reason in selecting the films for my 40 movies in 40 days project. I’ve decided to go wherever the spirit leads me. Once I start watching a film I am going to view it all the way to the end and see what it might have to say to me.
Last night, my random choice was Dogtooth, mostly because I could stream it instantly on NetFlix, but also because I had heard good things about it as an overlooked Oscar nomination (mostly from my alt film friends).
WARNING: this film is not for everyone. It is strange, perverse and quite disturbing– but fascinating after some slow-going. My opinion reflects the common consensus and the film has a 93% fresh critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the “strange perverse” caveat.
The film enters, without explanation or set up, into the insular world of a reasonablely wealthy family in Greece. Three adult children (without names) live with their parents, completely isolated from the outside world.
The first scene opens on a vocabulary lesson, via cassette recorder, providing the definitions of a number of words whose meanings are arbitrarily switched– the word “sea” the adult children are taught means “armchair.” When asking to pass the “salt” the word they are taught to use is “phone.”
They are also taught the outside world is extremely dangerous and even fatal. (A non-existant fictional “older brother” they are told ventured outside and was devoured by a housecat– one of the most dangerous and ferocious animals on the planet who feeds on human flesh). The father returns with ripped clothes and smeared head to toe with blood to report the grim news.
The family compound (house, pool, large garden) is located inside a tall hedged fence that completely obstructs the view. Only the father ventures outside, in the safety of his car. He owns a large factory and is a dead-pan but accomplished and probably expert business man. He’s made up a variety of stories about why no one ever sees his family and why no one is ever invited to the house. (He is a Power of Reason character and alienation vs connection is a common thread through-out the movie.)
The mother is an obsessive Power of Love character. She willingly goes along with the father to protect the children from outside “bad influences” and to keep them safe, secure, always in her orbit and completely dependent on her.
The family television only plays video cassettes made by the father which depict family scenes and family events. When the father buys groceries all the product labels are carefully removed and discarded before any item is brought into the house. The father “translates” an English language Dean Martin record, which the children are told was made by their “grandfather,” as an ode to family loyalty, fidelity and trying hard to please your parents.
The mother never leaves the compound but does have access to a rotary telephone, which is hidden and locked away in the parent’s bedroom. The adult children believe she occasionally retreats to her room to talk to herself. When one of the girls sneaks into the bedroom she has no idea how the phone works or what it is. When she accidentally dials a number and hears a voice, the girl is terrified and immediately hides the phone again.
The adult children live a strange bizarre life and have no real context for anything. They are at the edge of rebellion but when they question the parents the adult children accept the warped answers they receive. The parents aren’t depicted as evil or horribly abusive (well maybe a couple of times). They are strange, inappropriate and consumed with constructing a completely insular world of rather twisted innocence. They enthusiastically celebrate all sorts of family events. They laude their children’s achievement goals (all sorts of little contests are devised). They are mostly benevolent despots.
The only stranger the family sees is the female security guard who (while blindfolded) is occasionally driven to the compound to have joyless mechanical sex with the adult son. When one of the daughters gets hold of her contraband videotapes of American films (Rocky, Jaws and perhaps Flashdance) the daughter begins to quote from the movies and acts out the dance sequence from Flashdance. The isolation is shattered and things end as strangely as they began.
So where exactly did this lead me? Lots of metaphors have been offered about the film– but as I thought about the film I wondered my own unquestioned assumptions, definitions and fears. How much of what I believe did I inherit or do I accept without examination? How many of my beliefs are warped or distorted by someone else’s experience that is presented as fact or “truth”?
It reminded me of the old story about the ham in the pan. The story goes like this– A woman is cooking Easter dinner for her family and cuts off the ends of ham before tucking it into a very large pan and putting it into the oven.
Her small daughter asks her why she cuts the ham like that. The mother answers that it is the way it’s always been done. But then the mother wonders about this. She asks her own mother about the reasons for cutting off the ends of the ham.
Her mother replies that it was how she was taught to prepare a ham. They finally ask the family matriarch and she says that the oven in her home was too small to accommodate a large ham so she had to trim either end to make it fit in the pan and in the oven.
How long after the reason is obscured, has changed or become irrelevant do our assumptions and behavior patterns remain the same? Sometimes what we are told is false, like in Dogtooth, and the warnings, information or attitudes passed on simply represent someone else’s fears, good intentions or experience, without any true contextual basis in reality or in our own experience.
For example, how many of my attitudes and assumptions toward money come from parents who were born just after the Great Depression? I am revisiting a wonderful book, The Energy of Money, during this 40 days. The book’s premise is– everything about who you are is intensified in your attitude about money. Money is just a form of energy– how much energy you expend getting it, holding on to it or spending it. Like all energy, it has a flow. This flow can be blocked or squandered in response to fears, false assumptions or living in a way that is not intentional (not paying attention!)
How should my energy flow be focused in pursuing my projects? How do I not squander or dissipate my energy by frantic activity. How do I assess just what I want in evaluating and pursuing each project? How do I do that intentionally and in reflection of who I want to be?
I am incredibly lucky and very blessed. My father was extemely proud of me. As a creative person I was never told that I should have a “back up plan” or I should study something “practical.” He and my mother always believed I could do whatever I set out to do– no matter that I was a girl. All good!
One of the last things my father said to me before he died was that he was only sorry he wouldn’t live to see my “great” success. By that time I had been in a long-term mostly happy marriage (I still am), I helped raised one of my siblings (in my home) who was going through a rough patch in young adulthood, my husband and I owned a house, I had a law degree and a Masters Degree, I enjoyed a flourishing teaching, writing and consulting career and I had written several books– wasn’t that great success?
I know my dad meant that remark in a kindly way. But maybe I have been chasing something that is always just beyond my reach and not defined by me. I am not done by any means. There are always further mountains to climb, bridges to build and to cross and obstacles to overcome– In this next 40 days I want to make sure those mountains, bridges and obstacles are mine– and not the unexamined reflections or desires of someone else. I want to pursue only those projects that represent the best of what I can offer and which reflect the best of who I want to be. I want to live more intentionally– at least during this 40 days of time.
How do you go about being intentional in your work? Who defines you and your beliefs? Do you ever wonder about that? What fears or false assumptions might be standing in your way? Comment here or on my ETB FaceBook page.