It’s plain common sense that the things we’re taught since our childhood are based on reality. It is a fact that at some point we will have to surpass our home boundaries and make ourselves complete individuals living in that reality. The purpose of education it’s to show us how to live, to make sure we build ourselves a good Decalogue. Our life needs values to distinguish what’s important and what’s not, and above all as a rule for our behaviour, it helps us to make decisions.
But, what if all that culture, education and everything we have been taught from our parents it’s based on a lie? The family Dogtooth depicts has this main difference (or maybe not). Completely obsessed by the violence that dominates the world, the parents of this peculiar family decide to isolate themselves from the real world so they can protect their children. They decide to build the mental fort in which they transform their kids into pets by the education they decide to give to them.
As if they were raising animals they train their kids to keep them away from anger and rage. Language is the main tool they have to accomplish their goal. If you can’t name it then it does not exist. Our thoughts are mainly there thanks to our language, our mental imagery of things construct our reality.
When we think about a gun we go to a mental image of what we have been told about it and also to go back to the relations we might have had with the specific object. In an arbitrary way language names that with the letters g-u-n. However, if we’re told a gun is “a beautiful white bird” and we end up never seeing an actual gun it does not make any difference because gun just does not exist.
The three kids of Dogtooth are in their twenties although they seem to be entering adolescence. Their parents have made them completely dependent and that’s what makes it impossible for them to grow, to be mature. They are not provided with the mental tools you need in order to construct yourself with the purpose of never wanting to question anything and never wanting to leave home. As a consequence these three kids have conditioned responses to anything that happens in their daily life.
Just like it happens in A Clockwork Orange with the violence of the Estate, these kids have a complete lack of free will. Any trace of emotion has been erased, and just like Alex de Large, they have been raised to supress the real emotion.
Despite the fact that every word related to violence or transportation it’s banned, violence pours out of them as their animal instincts fight to get out. Some behaviours are so intrinsic to our existence that are impossible to avoid. These parents can’t escape from violence.
Games are a way to educate children. Create a fiction for them to learn roles and behaviours. Dogtooth’s home is the scenario where these three human beings have ever lived and as four walls and a garden are not enough, they spend their time playing games. Many types of violence sprinkle these playful scenes. Competition and beating each other it’s what’s makes it worth it.
What makes all this work is the direct relation the spectator makes with his or her own understanding of reality. It makes us question our own life. Parents always want the best for their children and the reason behind Dogtooth’s parents decision is love. Nevertheless “why” is not a plausible excuse anymore if we focus on “how” this is being done. Every person have their own reference to compare, thanks to that education they have a prism to discern and make the engine of critical thinking work. Dogtooth’s children lack of prism makes them trapped in unreality.
Probably in order to avoid a violent episode the parents decide to open the fort gate to another member: Christina. Male needs have to be satisfied and Cristina is responsible of this task. It’s quite a risk but the celibacy could have worse consequences. Cristina ends up taking advantage of the situation. She has power over people that lives in a mental jail and that makes them easy targets. As she’s corrupted by living in the “real world” her presence will also contaminate the kids, specifically the oldest one. Christina tears apart this castle made of sand with a simple video. Out of the blue the oldest daughter -that subsequently calls herself Bruce- has a window to the world. This offers her a whole new vision and the main cause of rebellion from her parent’s authority. As an adolescent she breaks up with their parents and tries to separate from that symbolic order. Through a painful act she escapes from that jail. All that prevention and sacrifice Dogtooth’s parents did are ruined. A yet impossible event is forced and leads the oldest daughter to her freedom. By the education they give to their children only one way out which is pain and eventually death. These children can’t live in other world apart from the home they were raised in. The kids can’t live on their own, they can’t be independent, and if their parents disappear all they leave for them is pain and suffering.
The visual language chosen for the mise en scene of the film it’s determined by the concept it encloses. The framing brakes every possible film rule as we understand about “how is properly done” in the classic Hollywood cinema. Heads are left out of the frame as the children have no brain at all. Their minds are thoughtless and so their bodies are represented without heads. At the same time their feet are also cut in many occasions, because their feet are not in the ground. The fiction in which the live have made them disable. This disability is shown in every scene. Light is also used to show this state of mind. Overexposed or underexposed shots makes it difficult to the spectator to see as it’s these kids can’t see for themselves neither.
In conclusion, these directors rely actively on the mechanisms of cinema to deliver violent content to an audience. And the violence is not only on the screen, but also in the way it’s presented. Some cinematic decisions are crucial to the intensity in which the violence is understood and felt by the audience.
The key elements that have been identified -such as the importance of location, the importance of family unity and the existence of a disruptive element, the importance of verbal language as a tool to build the character’s inner world, the importance of the editing pace and camera decisions such as the use of long takes or uncomfortable visual compositions, among others- have provided a clearer idea about how this films operate and they open the field to explore more about this matter in other art films.