Article by Taha Elkhalifa
Dogtooth, the Greek film is a drama about how dictatorship could affect human behavior and psychology. Re-framing of people, for example, was the mere goal of the Islamist rulers of Sudan from 30th of June 1989 until now. The same process is taking place in many Arab Gulf countries with a continuum of human products that reflect the complete submission to the quiet and negative rejection of the re-framing process.
In Dogtooth words are given different meanings for example zombie means yellow flower, telephone means table salt and pussy (the female genitalia) means lamp and the cat is an extremely dangerous animal. The three adolescents who have no names in the film were taught these meanings by their parents as the plot of the film says. An example of this same naming type was lived in Sudan during the civil war (1989-2007). The directed and controlled media of the Sudanese Islamic rulers practiced some sort of open deception as they named genocide and mass rape Jihad. Jihad as a word comes from the history of Islam. It is actually the name early Muslims gave to the wars of Prophet Mohammed against his people to build his own state in what is now known as Saudi Arabia. Another example from the Sudanese Islamist new dictionary is the “martyr wedding” which is the name given to the mourning period the family of the dead needs to overcome the sorrow of their loss. Families of Northern war victims were prohibited from showing any sign of sadness and were urged to celebrate the wedding of their lost beloved ones to brides in paradise. A third example from the Islamist new dictionary is the name given to hitchhiking which can be translated as excess space on an animal back which was the answer of the Islamic government to the scarcity of public transit in the early nineties of the last century.
People who live under dictatorship are simply intimidated by murder, torture and dismissal from work because of their opposing practices. This fear is not superficial. It is deep and actually absorbed to later be assimilated in small and unnoticeable quantities. This fear works deep into the confines of the submissive mentality. It changes human behavior and later controls it. In addition to that, it triggers a set of protective and defensive yet active patterns of behavior that identify with the suppressor. People in the Arab Gulf countries were not forced to be obligated to a dress code but they wear dresses that are similar to the costumes of their rulers. This type of practice is a good example of identifying with the suppressor. They do that to protect themselves from being considered as opposing the government which means death, torture or dismissal from work. In Dogtooth the adolescents were intimidated by a mythical cat that would rip off their skins and make them bleed to death, same as what happened to their elder brother who actually never existed! The parents used this story to keep their adolescent children within the fenced mansion; controlled by their own fears.Fear replaces respect in the mentality of the finished products of prolonged periods of tyranny. So they abide by the rules, for example rules of safe traffic, not because they respect these rules or care for other users of the road. They actually do that because they are intimidated by what would happen if they did not follow the rules.
Dictatorship and re-framing produce a human being that has been fully emptied from moral content and only has fear as a deep, unseen and unspoken of motive for his/her unfortunate behavior.
Sex in Dogtooth is also an element of control and re-framing of humans and has a much unexpected turn in the lives of the film's main characters just the same as it had when used by religious institutions to control human behavior for the welfare of the socially privileged class.
Dogtooth brought its maker Yorgos Lanthimos, the prize for the best film shown in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2009 Cannes.
Read interview with the filmmaker