Dogtooth and the Tyranny of the Paternal Metaphor
zombie, n. “a small yellow flower”
Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (Kynodontas, 2009) exists in the shadow of certain real life cases and, as a film about a dictatorial Greek patriarch, is open to readings of political allegory, but what is most interesting about the film, from a Lacanian perspective, is what it suggests about language and family structure. The film places great emphasis on signifiers and meaning, showing the latter to originate with the father and the paternal regime. This paper will therefore explore the ways in which Dogtooth exposes the structures that determine the subject, and consider them in terms of Lacan’s theories of language, as expressed in ‘On a Question’ and the fifth and sixth Seminars. For Lacan, the paternal metaphor is the basis of the Symbolic order; indeed, Bruce Fink states that the paternal metaphor provides the subject with a symbolic compass reading on the basis of which to adopt an orientation. It is the structure through which meaning as such enters the world. Dogtooth suggests what happens when this compass is broken. Putting a master in the place of the father, the film establishes an alternative (perverse, perhaps even phobic) Symbolic order, based on recognisable signifiers but radically different signifieds. Mark Fisher has described the manipulation of language in Dogtooth as a sort of controlling, Dadaist word play, but the condition here is much more fundamental. Working in a properly psychoanalytic manner – which is to say, to discover what the pathological instance can reveal about the general condition – this paper will explore the relationship between language and the family structure in Dogtooth to demonstrate the way in which the film highlights the repressive and repressing process and power of the paternal metaphor as envisaged by Lacan.