Nurture trumps nature
Of course, a version of that equation was true for everyone once. For better or for worse, we were all helpless for a while – anyone who can speak, or count, or sew, or sing, learned how from someone else. Whether you remember that person with love or hatred is beside the point; whether the input came from parents or aunties or teachers or social workers, it came from somewhere. Dogtooth, then, is the story of that input on steroids. Nurture, stomping unbidden over nature.
Rewarded with stickers when they do well and subject to corporal punishment when they don’t, the trio compete for parental approval and a prime position in the family pecking order. And, as the only member allowed to leave the house, their father looms especially large in their collective psyche. There, he is the unquestioned dispenser of rewards and punishments. Omnipotent and all-knowing, he wields his influence to provoke some very Greek Myth behaviour indeed – conversely, he performs duties in a middling role at a factory during the working day. Out there, no one special. In a universe of his design, he’s indispensable.
Après moi la deluge
As such, and provided for by this God-parent, barter is the only currency available to the siblings. Swapping socks for pencils between themselves is one thing; when it is decided that the brother is old enough to need his sexual urges met, a whole new entity to bargain with is delivered through the otherwise intact seal of their household. Hiring a security guard from his office building (Christina, the only character in the whole film with a name) to fulfil the unenviable role, their father pierces a hole in his own cloak. No turning back now – the door is open, and all bets are off.
Dogtooth is a film about the profound violence of control, but it’s also about the danger and unpredictability of life: you create what you fear, as they say. As the delicate balance of the household is set off kilter by Christina’s arrival, everything the father feared does come true – bit by bit, and then all at once. In a prison of his own making, he’s created an environment so fragile and remote that the slightest recalibration will bring it crashing to the ground.
Unable to persuade the boy to go down on her, Christina asks his eldest sister to step in. For her part, she’s more than happy to oblige – not least because of Christina’s expert bargaining with a sparkly headband. Stakes rise and tensions build; while the sister doesn’t quite understand her own arrangement with Christina, she senses it’s transgressive in some way. “Do you know what dad will do if he finds out I lick your keyboard?” she threatens (keyboard, it seems, is family code for vulva). Boy oh boy, just you wait.