At first it might seem that the isolated, contemporary Greek family portrayed in Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kynodontas constitutes a world unto themselves. The mother is a stay-at-home, and the three kids, a boy in his late teens or early twenties and his two younger sisters, are being home-schooled—although not very accurately, since they learn, for example, wrong meanings of words. (For instance, they are taught that sea means armchair in an effort to abort any wanderlust.) But the father, the one household member who gets to go off-campus, as it were, manages a factory, and this fact underscores the satirical way that the children’s circumstance reflects their parents’ mania to exert power over and control them. Family has become an extension of the father’s capitalistic mindset as reflected in the competitions amongst his children to which he consigns them, rewarding and penalizing them on the basis of the results.
Like the factory, the home environment is sterile; the predominant “color” is white—in contradistinction to the lush green growth of the grounds (Nature). It is an inhuman place, though, indoors and out. The children are never addressed by name; they must get down on all fours and bark like dogs; the rigid framing sometimes lops off their heads; the corporal punishments they receive are sometimes brutal. It is an unnaturally quiet place, although the sisters, indoors and at a window, scream in unison when their brother, outside, kills a cat with a pair of garden shears. To keep the boy from venturing out in search of tail, the father periodically brings home Christina for him. However, their sex is also inhuman: utterly academic and silent—bereft of any grunt of passion or moan of ecstasy. We subsequently see (and hear) that the parents’ “lovemaking” is also silent and passionless; apparently the parental example has home-schooled the boy in this area as well.
When Christina expands her service to include the girls, the father’s control is undermined and eventually undone. In a horrific scene, one of his daughters bloodies her own mouth and shuts herself inside the trunk of her father’s Mercedes, presumably hankering to steal a clandestine ride out of her prison. Inadvertently, her fate is sealed.
Visually, the film is beautiful—at least immaculate. Shots of the factory’s architecture are Antonionian, and one composition after another conveys the exercise of power and the subjugation involved. Nevertheless, I hate this film. Its formal oppressiveness blunts any intended satire.
Others have praised the film, which won the Un Certain Regard Award for Lanthimos at Cannes. Many find the film funny.
Try telling that to my cat.*
* Filmmaker Blake Eckard has e-mailed me the following different perspective:
A thoughtful review. Oddly, it was the “cat murder” scene when the film turned for me into something I suddenly felt I was grasping. Indeed, the scene when the daughter, soon to escape, smashes out her “Dogtooth” was horrific, but (much like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) reflection sheds light on a lot of humor and subtext that’s hard to recognize on a first viewing (at least for me). So, the film has stayed with me, and not in an unfavorable light.
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