[Warning for serious film viewers -- do not read this article until you have seen Dogtooth]
On Parenting, Media, Education and Phobias
By Ben Williamson
Modern cinema can teach us how youth and media are widely understood in our cultures. Cinema, like works of literature and visual art, can represent and diagnose our widespread fears and fantasies about young people and about how we, as cultures, bring them up. Back 150 years ago, for example, Charles Kingsley’s moral fable The Water-Babies challenged child labor. Today, the journal "International Research in Children’s Literature" publishes scholarly analyses of how children’s literature can both help in children’s growing up and impose on them social and moral codes from the dominant culture. Similarly, analyzing the way in which childhood is represented in movies can help illuminate today’s cultural concerns with children’s growing up and the ways in which they are positioned by social and moral codes in the digital age.
Extreme Fears About Media and Learning
The award-winning Greek film Dogtooth, which is lined up for a 2010 Academy Award for best foreign film, is a seriously unsettling dissection of modern family life, parenting and adolescence. Superficially, it’s a movie about parents imprisoning their own children, a paranoid total fantasy of protection from a toxic outside world. Yet it’s also, more subtly, a movie about learning and media.
On an isolated hill, a disciplinarian father and acquiescent mother and their three grown children live in total insulation from the outside world. The children are in fact infantilized adults, physically mature but suspended in a psychologically pre-adolescent state. The house and its gardens, which appear at first to be a middle class idyll, are completely barricaded with high fences against a supposedly dangerous outside world.
Inside, the three children are now being trained, like dogs, to protect the home from whatever dangers might threaten it. Their father trains them to bark and to patrol the garden on all fours. None of them even has a name. The siblings refer to one another as “The Eldest,” “The Son” and “The Youngest Daughter.” The film inverts the media stereotype children are like animals and suggests instead that they can be brutalized and bestialized by over-protective paternalistic petting.
Even outside, the modern world has been appropriated into the total fantasy. When airplanes fly overhead, the parents claim they are toys. Father occasionally drops a few fish into the swimming pool, too, so that he can demonstrate his traditional harpooning skills.
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