I’m in love with stories that surprise me. Whether it’s a short story, a newspaper column, anecdote or a movie, doesn’t matter as long as there’s a plot turn that makes me question my own reality. It’s also irrelevant if the surprise is positive or negative, subtle or loud, realistic or pure science fiction – just hit me with it, expand my mind just bit beyond the borders of a mold it is currently in.
Watching a predictable drama or Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy can be both fun and cathartic every once in a while, but when it comes to movies, the unusual genre hybrids are what keeps this love going strong.
I’ve already heard impressions about Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ unusual ways of coming up with stories before I watched one of his films and naturally developed my share of expectations. I knew I would encounter something atypical and was very much looking forward to that.
The first one I watched was The Lobster, a 2015 dystopian drama probably taking somewhere in the near future. I already wrote a piece about that one so I don’t want to repeat myself, I just wanted to stress out how it exceeded my expectations. I was baffled, impressed and entertained in a unique way. It met all my ‘surprise me’ wishes and put Lanthimos on the list of foreign directors I keep yapping about to my friends, pulling their arm and saying: But trust me, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before! TRUST MEEE, go watch it! Read the reviews, here’s the trailer link, did you watch it? Did you like it? Did you? Isn’t it funny when you realize why the film is named Lobster, is it? Can you imagine this happening to us one day?
And so on.
At the moment I’m impatiently awaiting The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the latest Lanthimos’ work so today I decided the time has come to go back in time and watch 2009 critically acclaimed film Dogtooth. Of course I didn’t expect it to have anything to do with The Lobster, but the cold, sterile atmosphere crept on me right from the beginning and that’s when I was able to recognize a similarity. The feeling of alienation and characters pronouncing the dialogue like reading school textbook lines in a bad play while turning absurd statements into logical conclusions are shared in both movies.
That is where the comparison ends and the weirdest plot I have ever seen begins (and I’ve seen Martyrs, thank you for asking).
Three teenagers live with their controlling parents, completely separated from the real world. By that I don’t mean they go straight back home from school to do their homework, they never leave home and are literally unaware of other people or anything that’s going on in the world (assuming that it really is our world), the only one who leaves the property is the father who works in some kind of factory. The children (two sisters and a brother) are told they can leave home on the day their ‘dogtooth’ falls out.
They are coming up with endurance games to keep themselves busy, have gathering ‘parties’ by watching old family videotapes that they already know by heart or listening to their grandpa singing. A little spoiler alert – the man they think is their grandpa is actually Frank Sinatra singing Fly Me To The Moon. Those poor kids.
At times it felt like a much more censored and brutal version of The Truman Show, but the rest of the story is far more original in making levels of absurd hitting the ceiling. I caught myself often getting annoyed by the characters – their way of talking, reacting to pain, following their animal instincts, general lack of empathy or any kind of usual reaction. But then again, there’s no place for normality in a story like this one so who can blame them? Their family dinner time taken out of the context sounds like a bad improvised sketch performed by not too intelligent amateur actors.
Oh and please remember that the cats are the most dangerous animals you can ever encounter and that zombies are small yellow flowers.
Confusion, sex, violence, incest, more violence, confusion and the open ending is how I would put it shortly. At the end of the day, I’m glad I watched it but the feeling of having a 90 minute physical fight with this film is something I wouldn’t like to go through again. I think I can finally say I watched something that was just too much for me to absorb or break down to pieces and analyze. But it sure did surprise me, disturbed me, but made me laugh at the most unusual moments, and like I said at the beginning, that’s the most important part.