July 17, 2008
Teeth is a movie about a teenage girl who, while desperately trying to maintain her “purity,” discovers that she has some special anatomy beyond her chaste cherry. Let’s just say that the title of the movie doesn’t beat around the bush (no pun intended).
I feel justified in calling this film a comedy. My husband laughed uncontrollably during all four of the movie’s “vagina-bites-off-something-phallic” scenes. I too giggled, but I also crossed my legs. I don’t have a penis and I wasn’t reacting squeamishly to the idea of having one severed, but I tensed up nonetheless.
Why? Here’s what I think: not only is the vagina a mystery to men (the vagina dentata myth has infected many cultures over the past two to three thousand years), but the vagina – my vagina – is also a mystery to me. A man’s sexual anatomy is external; and until the clitoris was “discovered” in or around 1559 and even after that, doctors thought that female genitalia was either less productive than the visible male genitalia, or simply inverted male genitalia. And as we well know, human beings tend to fear what they don’t understand.
That’s not to say that I have feared my vagina. But until I discovered my clitoris, I too thought it useless. (And I do know for sure that I don’t have any teeth down there.)
What is perhaps the funniest element of Teeth is that it depicts a scenario wherein a seemingly problematic condition is desirable. In other words, I should want a toothed vagina because it would give me a position of power: the power to castrate. What the heroine discovers about her carnivorous cunt is that she can control it; she can chew at will. And that makes her a kind of superhero. Rapists and even less physically offensive misogynists beware: you don’t want to make it angry!
Now here’s the really funny part: men are actually offended by this movie. It seems that some men find the idea that multiple characters abuse our heroine and put her in the defensive position of having – or just wanting – to use her special gift offensive. They think the movie hates men.
To be fair, Dawn goes through a difficult sexual awakening. She’s date raped. Then, her gynecologist fondles her without rubber gloves. She finds out the sensitive boy is really an asshole with a bet that he could bed her. Finally, she castrates her insensitive stepbrother for ignoring her dying mother’s calls for help while, yes, he was fucking his girlfriend du jour. Oh…and the movie is a cliffhanger: Dawn hitches a ride with a dirty old man who makes sexually suggestive face and tongue movements. She smirks at the camera. Cut to credits.
This is obviously satire, and the entire film is done with a wink and a smile. But some have taken it seriously as if it’s a condemnation of men as a whole. Here are a couple quotes from the film’s forum on the Internet Movie Database:
According to this movie every single guy is either a rapist/molester or is a weakling. Only self-loathing men could possibly like this movie. My beef is with the way ALL men are portrayed in this film. Again, nearly every single one was a rapist. The lone man who wasn’t portrayed as such was so ridiculously weak that he couldn’t even handle his own son.
If a movie was made about a man killing women and he was the hero for doing it, I guarantee you feminists would explode like the next atomic bomb. This movie is garbage.
So let’s talk about the film as if it were serious. I’ll address these concerns. Yes, it seems Dawn knows very few strong, yet decent, men. A teenage couple who are abstaining from sex offers up one example of a nice, well-adjusted male. He doesn’t follow his dick around with a voracious appetite for abusing or demeaning women. And the film does not present him as a weak character.
Yes, Dawn’s stepfather has not disciplined his son effectively. When the father tries to evict the young man at the end of the film, the son commands his Rottweiler to attack. But let’s face it: the son was a nightmare from day one. And the father was a compassionate man struggling with a sick wife. Since when do love and compassion signal weakness of character? According to these writers, men can either be good or bad with strength but not without. Deemed weakness doesn’t compute. It is unacceptable.
Some men are weak, as are some women…it’s a relative assessment in each case. The same goes for cruel and inhumane behavior: it’s performed by both sexes.
As to the assertion that cinema has never glorified male killers of women, I give you The Manchurian Candidate, Misery and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (a partial kill). Each film contains a loathsome female whose downfall comes from a man’s hand, a downfall which is anxiously and resoundingly applauded by men and women alike. We justify the violence against women because the victims have hurt or killed people.
Come to think of it, women have been routinely victimized in horror movies for our relaxation and enjoyment. Many feminist thinkers believe that the slasher genre of motion pictures is a direct rebuttal to the feminist movement. Many of the ways women die in these movies are sexual (a phallic weapon through the mouth or abdomen, a simultaneous rape and act of cannibalism, etc.). And many of the villains represent sexual or reproductive power (the mother in Psycho, the queen/mother alien from the Alien franchise, and of course the cast-off concubine in Fatal Attraction).
None of these examples do I take seriously. It doesn’t make me think that all women are as cruel and sterile as Nurse Ratched just because there’s no overpowering alternative in the film. And Teeth doesn’t make me think that all men are male chauvinists or rapists. I think that these horror motifs reflect not what exists in actuality, but what we fear. Amusement helps us divert our fears. If my husband hadn’t been laughing with Teeth, as I believe the filmmakers wanted him to, he would surely have screamed or cried. And rather than think about what the filmmakers might have been saying about mean mommies in Psycho, I get a good chuckle when I picture Anthony Perkins wearing that ridiculous wig. And that shower scene…guffaw, guffaw, guffaw!
Men who fear movies about having their balls cut off by a toothed vagina, really need to grow a pair first.