Perceptual Possibilities in Ruse Cinema: Dogtooth and Others [english text]

του Tony McKibbin
dogtooth-posterWhat might we define as ruse cinema? Or better perhaps than trying to define it, where can we find films that illustrate what ruse cinema may be? Here are a handful of relatively recent examples: Underground, The Game, Goodbye Lenin, Manderlay, Shutter Island and Dogtooth, six films that utilise the idea of another world existing within the actual one, but to certain characters functioning as the real world as the actual one for one reason or another is kept out of their reach. In some ways, and in some of the films, these are ‘mad’ worlds; in other ways, and in other films, ‘childish’ ones. Indeed from a certain perspective the mad and the childish can seem one and the same thing if we define them both as states of consciousness based on incorrect assumptions.

One thinks here for example of a passage from Jean Piaget’s The Child’s Conception of the World. In the chapter, The Concept of ‘Life’, he interviews children between the ages of seven and twelve. He asks one eight and a half year old if a tree is alive and receives the reply “No; when it has fruit it’s alive. When it hasn’t any, it isn’t alive.” Asked if a watch is alive, the child replies, “yes…because it goes”. An oven is alive because “it cooks the dinner and the tea and the supper”. (1) From a child this is touching, but from an adult it suggests problematic false inferences about the world. But what if a film creates a universe where the characters are kept or caught in a world where it is difficult to make correct claims?

Qualitatively and formally the six films mentioned are very different works, but they all share an interest in suggesting an alternative universe within which characters are lost, protected, exploited and/or manipulated. In Underground the war is over, but not for some, when their protector, who allowed them to stay in his cellar to escape from the Nazis, keeps them there after the war also as he makes good money on their arms-making down below. In Goodbye Lenin a son thinks his ill mum won’t be able to cope with the collapse of the Berlin wall, so does everything he can to keep her oblivious to the changes. Manderlay turns on the idea that the black slaves have been implicated in their own enslavement: Danny Glover’s head slave has been in cahoots with the lady of the house in setting up rules and regulations that keep everybody who has been kept in the dark well-fed and watered until liberal do-gooder Grace comes and messes with the method.

Then we have The Game, a film where Michael Douglas is a jaded financier whose brother decides his life needs shaking up, and the titular game might just do it. Douglas is played throughout, but is the game what he needed to escape the predictability of his high life? This leaves us with Shutter Island and Dogtooth. While the former plays a strong narrative game; the latter tries to open up film form. Shutter Island turns on the notion that the central character played by Leonardo Di Caprio has been in denial over the death of his three kids, whom his wife killed in a moment of madness, and over the wife he killed when finding out what she had done. Dogtooth takes the ruse into the absurd, and is consistent with, yet pushes far further than, Kusturica or Von Trier in exploring the surreal possibilities in creating an alternative universe as a protection mechanism against the outside world. Where we can say The Game, Shutter Island and Goodbye Lenin are narratively contained explorations of the ruse, Underground, Manderlay and Dogtooth seem much more willing to push the sort of questions that cannot be hemmed in by storytelling devices and nor would the filmmakers want them to be.

shutter_island2_In the more narratively oriented ruse films this limit becomes of course an unacknowledged problem. Where Shutter Island’s denouement too neatly announces that Di Caprio has been lost in a complex process of denial that Ben Kingsley’s doctor manages briefly to drag him out of, The Game also settles for narrative completion and viewer manipulation as we realise if not all the world’s a stage, nevertheless more than enough of it can be for Von Orten (Douglas) to believe that the game is reality. It is the most ambitious of the ruse films in terms of space: where the others mentioned work from constrained milieux from the point of view of the tricked – a house, a bed, a cellar, a plantation and an island – The Game takes in much of New York, and even bits of Mexico. Yet such ambition perhaps also leads to weaknesses: the more we think about it the more implausible the film becomes as we muse over the lengths the corporation setting up the game has gone to make it work. Clearly Nicholas Von Orten is rich, but that rich? Rather like Shutter Island, if for different reasons, The Game asks us to believe in a certain narrative revelation and resolution that the logic of the proceedings may make us deny. In Shutter Island one might wonder if since we have spent most of the film basically inside Di Caprio’s head and following his reality, why shouldn’t we assume we are still there? In The Game, so elaborate has it been, so encompassing has it been in encapsulating Von Orten into an alternative reality, who is to say that we are still not in it? It is the problem of ruse cinema when it shades into subjective film, when it shares similarities with films like Fight Club, The Secret Window and The Sixth Sense where, after being sucked into a subjective universe, the filmmaker expects us to buy into a real one.  There is a gimmick aspect to Shutter Island and The Game that is also shared by Goodbye, Lenin!, where the son goes to increasingly improbable lengths to keep the mum convinced that she is still living in Communist East Germany. It seems to invoke less the absurd, and all the political possibilities from such a position, than the winsome: this is the most devoted of sons, and the politically radical proves far less significant than the emotionally rewarding. In various ways Shutter Island, The Game and Goodbye, Lenin! want the game contained, the narrative through-line complete.

Thus the films that count here are much more Underground, Manderlay and Dogtooth, and it is to the latter that we want especially to concentrate our attention. Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, the film works hard to find a correlative formal absurdity to the narrative ruse. If a film is going to create an alternative world, shouldn’t it create an alternative film form in which to explore it? Director Yorgos Lanthimos works a twofold absurdity. First, on the level of the diegesis, with the father and mother having kept their three children in house captivity apparently since birth, and where part of this captivity consists in giving words like daisies completely different names. Such a method is absurd but not entirely implausible, for how often do parents utilise euphemism to keep a child ignorant of sexual terminology? This is true also in relation to creating false myths. A parent may allow the child to believe in Santa Claus and tooth fairies, beliefs that fade with time, but they do so in the face of a reality that calls them into question as the child engages with a real world. It returns us to Piaget and the notion of false inference, a falsity though, deliberately, exacerbated in a child’s early stages often either for the child’s ‘own good’, in say the use of euphemism, or for their perceived pleasure, in the case of tooth fairies and Santa Claus. If however like the three kids here, who are basically now adults, the ruse continues, then absurdity and madness takes over, and from the angle of both the offspring and the parents.

In one scene the father tells them that their brother who has been living on the outside is dead: that he was killed by a marauding cat. As the father tells them this, they see he is covered in blood and his clothes are torn: that he has had a close escape himself. However shortly before coming home we’ve seen him cover himself in red dye, and rip away at his own clothes. It’s been a ruse for the children, as the father’s determined to convince them the world is a dangerous place and that they are better to stay where they are.

dogtooth1What is often most fascinating about the film though isn’t only the ruses played on the children, but a sort of inverse epistemological game being played on the audience.  If the kids are caught in the reasoning procedures of the parents, as the absurd becomes rationalised, so that the kids can see the rationale but not the absurdity, Yorgos Lanthimos often creates the reverse position for the viewer. We’re privy to the absurdity before the rationalisation. This is clearly the case when the father tears at his clothes and pours dye on them, or for example when the brother stabs a cat with a pair of scissors. Generally Lanthimos doesn’t put us in the position of the rationale but in a position slightly beyond it as we work out the rationale within the absurdity that we witness.

Now often people talk about a film’s plot logic and also our suspension of disbelief, and ruse cinema often puts us in the position where our suspension of disbelief is consistent with a plot logic that says no matter the absurdity of the situation, we are at least in the logic of the narrative. Even in the often radical Manderlay the voice over is precise and knowing, aware of the absurd rituals the slaves and their masters have undergone, and how the transformation of these rules create chaos in the community when an interloper enters. Grace comes to Manderlay believing she can turn the blacks from lackeys to agents, from slaves to masters of their own destiny. But one’s aware that such hope is misguided as we increasingly realize that it isn’t possible for such a transformation when the codes are so deeply embedded. Von Trier is clearly a director interested in the absurd, as defined by Martin Esslin in his book the Theatre of the Absurd. “‘Absurd’ originally means ‘out of harmony’, in a musical context. Hence its dictionary definition: ‘out of harmony with reason or propriety; incongruous, unreasonable, illogical.” (2) Grace comes in with well-meaning reason, but the absurd situation works better than the reasonable one, and by the end of the film Grace is caught in the absurdity herself as she whips the very man whom she saves from a whipping at the beginning of the film. From a certain point of view the situation is absurd – from the point of view of an outsider seeing Grace at the beginning of the film saving a man from a severe whipping; and yet at the end of the film witnessing her administering an even more severe one, but Von Trier has worked an absurdist logic within the diegesis. This isn’t quite the suspension of disbelief for the acceptance of plot logic, which we often find in movies where the films are dramatically implausible as thirty villains are removed, or the planet is saved by a lone hero, but they wouldn’t quite be absurd works: absurd in the sense that the filmmaker has set out to turn our reasoning faculties inside out in the process of the diegesis. One might come out of Rambo or Commando and insist they’re absurd, but that would be our dismissal of the film, not the intention of it.

It is this intentionality of absurdity, if you like, that Dogtooth pushes so far, as in form and narrative content it constantly demands a suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part that is consistent with, yet quite different from, the disbelief already practised on the characters for what looks like their entire life. What the film does extremely well is place us in an informationally deprived position. If at one extreme one has Hitchcock as the master not of suspense, though that as well, but of reason, as he brilliantly and frequently puts us in positions of being educated guessers, Lanthimos reverses this process because our educated guesses count for little. Where many a great filmmaker of reason, from Hitchcock to George Stevens, from Spielberg to William Friedkin, rationalize us, others, from Lynch to Lanthimos, irrationalise us, and do so in their very image structure.

shane3As an example of a film rationalizing us, we might think of near the beginning of Stevens’ Shane, where young Joey is playing with a rifle and as Shane hears it click the cowboy is at his hip drawing his pistol. The speed with which he does so makes it clear here is a man who lives by the gun, and can undeniably take care of himself with the use of it. Moments later when the baddies come up to the homesteader’s house, and just after that, after looking like he’s gone, Shane reappears, we might rationally assume that Shane will help the homesteaders against the villain who wants to take over their land. The film may chiefly be about Joey’s perspective on Shane as the film constantly plays up the reaction shots of Joey looking at his hero, but this is a boy mastering the tools of rational behaviour, and has nothing to do with Piaget and the limitations of a child’s epistemology. In Shane what happens is that each piece of information that we infer correctly moves us towards a ‘mature’, rational perspective.

Making sense of the relations in Dogtooth however take us further into an irrational universe. In one aforementioned scene we see the brother stabbing a cat to death with a large pair of scissors, and then cut to the father on the phone to his wife where she is presumably explaining what happened. Moments after that he parks his car after work and starts ripping at his own clothing, before splashing red paint all over himself to give the impression that he has been badly attacked. On one level we are in a privileged position, for we know what the kids do not and will not know: that the father has ripped apart his own clothes and thrown paint all over himself pretending that he has been mauled by a cat like the one that the brother killed in the garden. However, when he is creating his ruse, we may be wise to the ruse that it is, but we aren’t quite aware of why he is doing it. To offer an educated guess is to contribute to the insanity of the world into which we’ve been dragged. If we have the grown-up children making inferences in a falsified world, and parents absurdly creating it, then we as viewers are also implicated in the madness as our inferences aren’t especially different from the children’s – they contribute to our making sense of the world irrationally as one works with various approaches that take us into and not simply observing a mad world.

Good_bye_Lenin2If one were merely to follow a story of someone else being fooled, then we would be passively amused rather than actively, irrationally engaged. This is basically the difference between a film like Goodbye Lenin where one’s kept at an ironic distance from the mother as the son dupes her in numerous ways, but where the distance of irony is countered by the emotional immediacy of the good son. The ruse here is offered obviously to explore the sudden shift of East Germany being westernised, but most especially to see how far a son will go to make his mother happy. The absurdity of narrative premise does not create an irrational spectator as we’re defining it.

Another useful comparison perhaps is with Steve McQueen’s fine film about the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, Hunger. At the beginning of the film McQueen shows a man’s fists covered in bruises and gains pathos from the obvious pain of the wound as the man nurses his knuckles, washing them under the tap. Later on we notice the hands are bruised because he has been abusing prisoners with them. Our empathy was misplaced, and our sympathies should be elsewhere. The partial knowledge we’re given at the beginning of the film leads to greater understanding later on, and though we’ve ‘felt’ the prison warden’s pain, one feels far more that of the prisoners’, and so any feeling for the warden is withdrawn and transferred to the victims. But Hunger, with its fascination for the minutiae of feeling, creates a consistent sense of tenderness within brutality: its play with information that then has to be reconsidered doesn’t ‘irrationalise us. In similar scenes in Dogtooth we’re pushed into the insanely inferential. This might take the relatively simple form of language. At the beginning of the film a tape recorder says to the kids that “a sea is a leather armchair with wooden arms; a motorway is a very strong wind; an excursion is a very resistant material used to construct floors.” With this arbitrary play with the signifier and the signified, the word and what it actually refers to, the madness is exacerbated by the logical within the irrational: “for example, the chandelier fell violently onto the floor but no damage was caused to it because it is made of 100% excursion.”

The same irrationalising process is also there in the framing: where the partiality of the shot creates an off-centred universe. In one shot where the brother is being punished for throwing stones, he is forced to hold some liquid in his mouth. The shot is framed so that the sister seems disproportionately small in the image, while the father, who is the oppressive figure in the family, is on the edge of it, with part of his body outside of the frame. There is undeniably a practical purpose to the shot – Lanthimos shows the son rushing to the sink behind him after he’s given permission to spit it out, and Lanthimos doesn’t need to reframe to show the son turning and spitting into the sink. But the practical purpose seems secondary to the ‘impractical’ framing. This isn’t pragmatic framing for the purposes of allowing for two actions within the same shot, first and foremost, but an askew composition that serves the irrational.

Thus in a number of different ways Lanthimos pushes the ‘insanity’ of the narrative and the image. He expects us to read information correctly, diegetically, but incorrectly in the broader world as we try and understand the inner logic of the family’s universe.

Interestingly other filmmakers have mused over, or shared however coincidentally in, some of Piaget’s observations about the child’s view of the world. As Dudley Andrew says in his book, The Major Film Theories, “it is the famous psychologist Jean Piaget who provided the most striking psychological parallel to Eisenstein’s theory.” (3) Andrews notes Piaget’s observation that children between two and seven were highly egocentric, and thus their “‘representations’ cannot be differentiated from themselves”. Eisenstein also saw the general film viewer adopting “the images on the screen as if they embodied his own pre-cognitive experience”. (4) Another similarity is basically montage thinking, where Piaget notes that when a child watched water being poured from one jug to another – they assumed there was an increase in the amount of water: they hadn’t followed through the intermediate stage linking one to the other – they just saw the increase in one of the jugs. Piaget’s interest in the burgeoning, instinctive intelligence of the child was similar, Andrews believed, to Eisenstein’s interest in montage. Eisenstein would also often leave out the intermediate stage that would generate causal links, and we can see it most obviously in the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin: logically the sequence doesn’t work, as actions are repeated, as time is accelerated and protracted, as spatial coordinates are weakened. Andrews reckons that Eisenstein’s suspicion over the long take lay partly in his fascination with almost pre-conscious links. “For a child in Piaget’s scheme and for an audience in Eisenstein’s theory, it is more meaningful to show three lions in quick succession,” Andrews says, “each static, each occupying a different position, but together suggesting fierce arousement than to show one lion actually rousing itself to fight.” (5)

potemkinHowever Lanthimos has little in common with Eisenstein, for finally the Russian maestro might have been interested in cinema’s capacity to work with elements of the viewer’s sub-conscious, but for quite conscious and rational ends: his three major twenties films, Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October were all about creating revolutionary consciousness – perhaps we could even say, taking into account Andrews remarks, revolutionary pre-consciousness.  Lanthimos is very much part of a cinema that works with bourgeois consciousness: the film is nothing if not a critique of bourgeois self-protection and thus shares similarities with Haneke films like The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video, Ulrich Siedl’s Dog Days, Francois Ozon’s Sitcom and numerous other works investigating the sterility and absurdity of middle-class life. Where in this reckoning Eisenstein wants revolutionary consciousness to release us from an overly determined rational existence; Lanthimos wants to ask what sort of false consciousness is bourgeois culture willing to practise to keep people in the dark. But just as Eisenstein made revolutionary sub-consciousness cinematic, Lanthimos’s ideological subversion is worth little as a statement if it isn’t contained by a form that implicates us in the world it depicts. One needs to feel the oppressiveness of false consciousness and this often comes through the framing, just as in Eisenstein it often came through montage.

“I realised during rehearsal”, Lanthimos said, “that without moving the camera too much, you could make it a claustrophobic film.” This is the blank stare aesthetics of Haneke and Seidl, but it is also the partial framing that Haneke uses so well in The Seventh Continent.  One feels constantly that Lanthimos is keeping things from us, and thus while Eisenstein brilliantly plays with time and space without asking us to question that relocation, Lanthimos’s purpose is chiefly to invoke the lack of coordinates. For example when in one moment one of the sisters starts hacking away at a Barbie doll, the oddness of the deed is matched by the oddness of the framing. Most filmmakers would have moved back a few inches so that the doll is always in the shot, but Lanthomis allows the doll to slip in and out of the shot as we’re as much aware of the frame as of the action. In another scene where the father is talking to the dog trainer, Lanthimos frames a medium shot of the trainer that under-privileges the viewer as the father is absent from the shot. Now this would be readily acceptable if it functioned as a counter shot – in a dialogue exchange it is common for one character to be shown and the other to be absent, or where only his shoulder or part of his head appears. But this is closer to an establishing shot, so the expectation would be that both the father and the trainer would be in the same frame. Instead the trainer is talking off screen to where the father obviously happens to be, but what is most apparent is the space surrounding the trainer: the counter, a door, the trophies. The irrelevant replaces the pertinent, exacerbated in the following shots as the film moves into a medium close-up of the trainer where we see part of the counter and only part of the trainer’s face. The next shot shows the father’s back and head leaning forward, and rather than showing the whole face and the top half of the body, we see the back of the head and shoulders and an apparently unimportant wall.

What is useful to think about in such instances, though, is not the irrelevant and the pertinent, but the pertinence of the irrelevance. Lanthomis’s framing frequently conveys the sense of a misplaced appropriateness in keeping with the film’s narrative of re-imagining the world through the parents’ ruses. It’s as if the questions directors of ruse cinema need to ask is how does one not only involve the person in the narrative game that is at the ‘expense’ of the characters, but how also do we contain the film formally within a certain type of delirium? If we propose that Goodbye Lenin, The Game and Shutter Island are less interesting examples of ruse cinema than Underground, Manderlay and Dogtooth, it lies partly in this formal need to find a means with which to contain the game that goes beyond narrative ploys. It is true that in Shutter Island Scorsese will play with point of view so that what we see from the central character’s perspective will occasionally be unreliable (a moment where someone raises a hand to drink but doesn’t actually have a glass in her hand) or even to indicate an artificiality of mise-en-scene to show that we shouldn’t take entirely seriously the space as objective location. Jonathan Romney in Sight and Sound wondered whether the windswept scene on the boat at the beginning of the film “appears to use back projection, or CGI that evokes it”. (6)  Such moments however may make us muse over the subjectivity of perspective, but not especially over the issue of film form – Scorsese is playing games with our perception but not beyond the immediacy of the diegesis.

In Manderlay, Underground and Dogtooth the form needs to find a way of turning the world upside down without merely reducing the film to a subjective, narrativized point of view. Emir Kusturica’s upside down shots, the low-angled absurdity, the insistence of the music, all indicate that the filmmaker is implicated in the chaos that he engenders: that it doesn’t quite find its alibi in narrative and character. When Goran Gocic in The Cinema of Emir Kusturica talks of an earlier Kusturica film, he says “what [Kusturica] brought about on the screen in Time of the Gypsies is all that constitutes being a Gypsy. It is not only the question of language – when gypsies praise, syntagms comparisons are ‘impossible’ since speech is incapable of containing the amount of their enthusiasm…” (7) By the same token how does one create an upside down world, where the underground becomes a world unto itself? How does one create surplus aesthetic value through the subject one chooses to focus upon? It is partly why Taxi Driver is an infinitely more challenging work than Sutter Island, with Scorsese frequently pushing beyond character and narrative to indicate a world that cannot be so self-contained. There are numerous such shots in Taxi Driver – relatively arbitrary insert shots of hands, lap dissolves that barely move from one space to another as Bickle walks along a New York street, Antonioni-like establishing shots of buildings that are then not followed by interior shots locating them as establishing shots. All these devices make the world much more askew than that of Shutter Island: where character and narrative cover the anomalies. This is an aesthetics where the surplus in a curious way implicates the viewer in a subjectivity beyond the diegesis and creates complicity, a radical ‘meta-contract’ between the filmmaker and the viewer.

Now interestingly when Lars von Trier says he likes to start a new experiment in form with each film, the experiment is not especially related to diegetic intent, though not especially separate from it either. It is what creates the surplus and flies in the face of any number of critics who believe that basically meaning is generated out of diegetic specificity. From Rudolf Arnheim to V. F. Perkins, the sense of appropriateness and containment is vital to aesthetic creation. Arnheim reckons in Film as Art that in “a good film every shot must be contributory to the action,” (8) while Perkins in Film as Film notes that the shower scene in Psycho, and his analysis of it, “is an indication of the strength of Hitchcock’s conception and of the formal rigour of its execution that a full analysis of this scene could be given only as part of an analysis of the complete film.” (9) In each instance Arnheim and Perkins is speaking about the complete, contained film, where what interests us here is the opposite: a film’s excessiveness. The ruse films that are the most interesting are those that want to contain the game not in the narrative but muse over its containment in a world that spills over beyond the frame.

The film is thus not an entertainment through containment, but an attempt at reframing the world through the ruse of its narrative hypothesis. For example if in Dogtooth the conversation between the father and the dog trainer had been viewed from the perspective of one of the children, then this would be narratively and characteristically consistent, but the adopting here of a clearly non-subjective viewpoint at the same time releases the excessive point of view of the filmmaker. The director seems to be saying not only will I tell you a story about a mad or child-like world, but that in telling this story I will make you mad and child-like in the process of telling it, but at the one remove of film form. We cannot find an alibi in character subjectivity.

There are two scenes in Dogtooth that can help us understand the degree to which the film has taken us into its ruse, and expanded our affectivity in the process. The first is what we’ll call the reconfiguration of relations, the second, the absurdist epiphany. In the latter instance the two sisters dance as the brother plays flamenco guitar. As one of the sister’s goes to sit down with her parents, the other sister keeps going, increasingly lost in her own energetic impulses as the music and her dancing become more and more disjunctive.

In the former scene, the same daughter later goes to the bathroom and hammers her jaw with a small dumb-bell, a shockingly inexplicable gesture, yet also, within the film’s reconfiguration of relations, an entirely logical act: she is trying to knock out her dogtooth, the tooth that as long as it is lodged in her mouth, means that she must remain confined to the home. Now we know that she is knocking her tooth out for this reason because of the relations the director has set up, not unlike the relations narrative rationalists offer us as we work out connections in the plot that aren’t absolutely given to us by the story itself, but where it takes little effort to make connections between events. There is a great term to cover this, and it comes from Edgar Allan Poe, where he talks about his own stories, The Murders of the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, The Gold Bug and others as racionative. Many writers and filmmakers have drawn on this racionation for the purposes of ‘sane’ narratives of surmised cause and effect. But of course Poe also possessed an irrational side, and it is as if Lanthimos was drawn to a re-racionation that would force one to think relations that are nevertheless closer to the mad and the child-like than the sane and mature. When the daughter knocks her teeth out we’re aware not as rational detectives, but irrational empathisers, sharing the daughter’s internal logic based on the coordinates of the crazy life the parents have mapped out.

dogtooth2In the scene where she dances, this is life force as disjunctive action, as she moves not with the music but increasingly and violently against it. As we watch we don’t get into the music and we don’t get into the dance. In most film examples of music and dance – even in a von Trier musical like Dancer in the Dark – the disjunction is small as Bjork turns the factory environment and its noises into her own rhythmic universe. Von Trier allows external sounds to segue into Bjork’s musical world, and the music and dance become one. The same is even true of the scene in The Night is Young where Denis Lavant dances madly to David Bowie: the disjunction is if you like recuperated and incorporated: brought into the universe of the character. In Stealing Beauty there is the scene where Liv Tyler’s character seems to be dancing madly only for us to notice the headphones, as the music she is listening to becomes the music we are listening to also. In Dogtooth the gap is retained, so that just as we note the constant disjunctions of thought and try and make sense of a world that has its own sense, in relation to the music we’re again stranded in non-sense: in music and dance that ask for a sort of absurdist epiphany.

Lanthimos’s approach to the game in cinema is what we could call the radical ruse as opposed to the conservative game. In the former the frustration with the norms of life requires a radical break from those norms and the game is created. In the latter the game exists for the opposite reason: to contain life within strict boundaries, the sort of limits Robert Frost proposed when saying that free verse was like playing tennis with the net down. In this sense the sort of ruse cinema practised by Dogtooth (and also to a lesser degree by Manderlay and Underground) is a bit like playing a game with the net down and yet at the same time creating a new game out of this tennis without a net. Shutter Island, The Game and Goodbye Lenin one feels still want the net up, and thus fall on the conservative side of ruse cinema. “As long as necessity is socially dreamed,” Guy Debord reckoned in The Society of the Spectacle, “dreaming will remain a social necessity. The spectacle is the bad dream of a modern society in chains” and ultimately expresses nothing more than its wish for sleep.” (10) Many examples of ruse cinema (perhaps like many games), are played for their capacity to induce a certain ideological drowsiness. Others, consistent with the politicised attempts of Absurd Theatre and Surrealism, to awaken us from our dogmatic slumbers: Dogtooth seems such a case.



1. Jean Piaget, The Child’s Conception of the World, Paladin, St Albans, 1973, p222

2. Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, Penuin, Harmondsworth, 1968, p 23

3. Dudley Andrew, The Major Film Theories, London 1976, p55

4. Ibid, p55

5. Ibid, p56

6. Jonathan Romney, Sight and Sound, April 2010, pp74-75

7. Goran Gocić, The Cinema of Emir Kusturica, Wallflower Press, London, 2001, p104,

8. Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art, Faber, London, 1983, p 42

9. V. F. Perkins, Film as Film, Penguin, Lodon, 1988, p107

10. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Rebel Press, London, p12










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