Mise-en-scène: Dogtooth

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1. Blindfolded
The ideal image to encapsulate the essence of Dogtooth. Here, ‘Bruce’ occupies a pool of water whilst blindfolded. The element of water is closely aligned with the subconscious and all that is unknown to ourselves. ‘Bruce’ has been raised in an atmosphere of ignorance and misinformation. As such she is both metaphorically, symbolically and literally blind. She is unable to hold a factual adult conversation as her use of language has been so warped in it’s teaching, as such she is unable to understand and ‘see’ the world as it actually is. Her senses are defunct in enabling her to interpret the world around her. The fact that the bind is colourful suggests that the intention for the binding is not altogether one of abuse, but one of adults who have deeply rooted issues of there own. The straps of her costume appear to be red. She is a symbol, a target, representative of danger and lust. The parents are afraid for there children, particularly there daughters, to develop a sexuality as this could potentially draw there loyalty away from the family unit and beyond the home. ‘Bruce’ flounders near the side looking disjointed and confused, literally cast adrift in a vast unconscious, a child in the womb.

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2. Dance
Clothed in conservative, feminine attire, the two sisters prepare to dance for the family. The brother is to the left of the still playing an instrument. The celebratory decorations adorning the home looks childish and out of place, even tacky (note the Christmas lights to the right). The colourful balloons gathered on the floor appear to be straight from a child’s birthday party. There is an awkward, visible disconnect between the cheery decorations and the expressions on the faces of the three children. All three look stifled, anxious and deeply uncomfortable, as well as rigid and physically stuck. The sisters almost look like they are awaiting execution, so visibly unhappy do they look.

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3. Sneaking Up
For this family, cats are a dangerous enemy. Here, the son, a victim of childhood brainwashing prepares to confront this deadly foe. The gorgeous greens of the garden represent an Eden-like haven. The cats pose looks un-expectant. The son looks fearful but purposeful, slowly inching forward with his weapon downcast at the ready. The contrast of such Suburban bliss and such an unholy, bizarre act is truly surreal and is almost a replica of original sin – a dark, disturbing act that may expulse the innocence from this scene.

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4. Father and daughter
Here we can see where the balance of power lies. The father is angry with ‘Bruce’ for procuring videos from the outside world. As he wishes to cocoon the children in the family home, this is not good news for him. He looks like a harmless, ordinary dad. Nothing particularly sinister or cruel about him. That is what makes him all the more creepy as a character. He is elevated above ‘Bruce’ on the comfy sofa whilst she sits obediently and submissively on the floor awaiting her punishment. The room looks sterile and clinical. There are two thin blue vases on the table. Water is frequently used throughout this film. The element of water when free flowing suggests freedom but the children are trained to use water competitively, constructively, in a contained and supervised manner. The vases on the table are representative of this contained water, this stifled sense of freedom, a pre-meditated existence.

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5. Sisters
After Christina’s visit, the sisters have a very warped introduction to what sexuality is. Knowing female genitalia only as a ‘keyboard’, here the girls exchange there idea of what a sexual favour is for some paraphernalia. This intimate, inappropriate pose shows the siblings desire to please and also the extent of there indoctrination. They have no concept or understanding of ordinary, or appropriate sexual relations. ‘Bruce’s’ rigid clasped hands look almost like a deranged prayer. The younger sister by contrast looks ethereal and peaceful. She has always been the more submissive and the more indoctrinated of the two. As such, she is happy to play along. The girls are shown naturally here. These is no gratuitous, exploitative use of nudity or sexy underwear.

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6. Authority Knocks
When Christina is first introduced to the girls, she is a bit of an enigma. She works as a security guard at the fathers company and for some reason, agrees to visit the family and sleep with there son. Bored of his sexual inexperience, she soon makes a play for one of the sisters in exchange for some videos. Christina represents a destabilising force in the house. Firstly, she is from outside. Secondly, she has a position of some authority in the outside world, as we can garner from her uniform and the fact that she wears this to the house (she brings her outside authority with her). Thirdly, she is at least bi-curious which deviates from the fathers control of his children’s sexuality. Through sex, dependent on your stance, she either brings corruption or liberation to the house. Thanks to Christina, ‘Bruce’ is able to make an exchange and see videos of the outside world which piques her curiosity to leave the home whatever it takes. For the father, Christina would be a corruptive force, forcing his baby away from home. This is almost an updated garden of Eden situation where curiosity and temptation will expulse and expel the children of God from there parental garden. Is this better or worse for the children? Especially given there upbringing and ignorance. Christina looks confident and controlled in this photo whilst the sisters are huddled together, impressed and unsure. Christina is an example of a powerful, independent woman. The sisters are dependent and mentally embryonic and undeveloped. Christina, with her dyed hair, make-up and uniform looks worldly and contains knowledge. The most important knowledge she imparts to the girls is her sexual knowledge. The sisters matching haircuts and dull grey tops regress them making them symbiotic and colourless.

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7. Removing the Dog Tooth
Those familiar with the film will know that the children are only permitted to leave the family home once their dog tooth falls out. Of course, there is no such thing as a dog tooth and it will never fall out. This lie gives the children hope that maybe one day they can leave whilst also preventing them from escaping sooner. After all, ‘one day’ the dog tooth will fall out. ‘Bruce’, inspired by sexual contact with Christina and the films she procures from her, decides to remove her own dog tooth once and for all. This is a courageous move for freedom. This act of self-violence for liberation mirrors childbirth, the loss of ones virginity or menstruation. The marking of passing into adulthood from childhood is almost always connected with loss of blood, especially for women. Here ‘Bruce’ looks downcast with vibrant red blood on her jaw. She has made her own decision to grow up. She has taken control. This marks the end of ‘Bruce’ as a child. She is a woman now.

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8. Smile
To fortify the idea that a sense of innocence has been lost, the room and ‘Bruce’s’ attire are virginal, angelic white. Everything is clean and pure, sweet, cosy and girly. The only difference is the spattered blood on the mirror and ‘Bruce’s’ wide, mutilated smile. In the mirror ‘Bruce’ has finally achieved some sense of self-actualisation and self-recognition. She acknowledges herself as a woman and smiles. This scene is reminiscent of a ceremony or right of passage. As mentioned previously, it could be the loss of virginity or the start of menstruation. It signifies a transformation. As ‘Bruce’ is in control of this change, she is joyfully happy. She smiles brightly for the first time.

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9. The cat did it
In this macabre, surreal piece of play acting, the father pretends that he was attacked by a cat. He uses cats, independent, free and curious, to represent a very real danger and encourage the kids to stay home. This exaggerated display of the cats threat chills the children and causes the son to later kill one in the garden. The beautiful, bold greens of the garden, again Eden-like, viscerally clash with the slash-fest red. The father has done his best to dishevel himself for maximum effect.

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10. Christina waits
Waiting to be picked up to go to the house, Christina stands on the corner of the street. Street corners are usually associated with prostitutes. We know that Christina is complicit in the fathers scheme in as far as she does not report him and she sleeps willingly will the son. This picture represents Christina as an independent, lone figure, a free figure. Is she really any better off than the sisters? The world around looks sparse and empty, in contrast with the house which seems vivid and bright. Is this the world as the father sees it?

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1 comment
  1. Loux said:

    some great observations. This movie is so dark but has so much commentary. I think you should analyse a few more of the scenes

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