Teeth, a Movie With Bite

Since the beginning of humanity, the female body has been a source of both mystery and danger for men. It is a mythical symbol of cyclical creation, life and death. In countless cultures and societies around the world, a particular sinister myth has arisen from man’s inseparable mixture of fascination and fear of a woman’s most private region. The legend is that of a “vagina dentata”, or “toothed vagina”, which could consume or castrate her partner during intercourse. From the Chinese patriarchs, who were to have said women’s genitals were not only gateways to immortality, but also “executioners of men”, to the Yanomamo myths that one of the first beings on earth was a woman whose vagina became a toothed mouth which castrated her consort, it is remarkable the similarities in the stories despite the vast distances between their creators. Even Christians of the Middle Ages were taught that certain witches could possess the ability to grow fangs within their vaginas, likening this part of them to the mouth of Hell itself, an ancient concept which actually predates the Middle Ages by thousands of years. In modern western societies the myth has mutated into a mixture of urban legend and bad sexual jokes, though it is still one that makes men want to curl up into a fetal position and cling to their family jewels. From a psychoanalytical stance, the myth derives from primitive masculine fears about the "mysteries" of the female body and of sex itself. It relates to fears of weakness, impotence, or annihilation through union, which is also incorporated with an unconscious fear of "returning to the womb". All in all, it is an interesting cultural phenomenon that has survived for thousands of years and is a testament to just how deeply engrained the fear within the human psyche.

Teeth is the story of a teenage girl, Dawn (Jess Weixler), who discovers she is the living reality of the dentata myth. In the looming shadow of a nuclear reactor, Dawn has grown up, unawares of her mutation. A dedicated leading member of her religious abstinence youth group, she has worked hard to suppress her hormonal desires and maintain her pristine virginal image as she recruits new pledges. This is complicated by her chaotic home life complete with an ailing mother (Vivienne Benesch) and cruel, antisocial stepbrother (John Hensley), but she has held true to her beliefs. That is, until she becomes the victim of an attack and she is forced to defend herself in a way she never knew possible.

In today’s American culture, where sex has once again become a source of fear and anxiety and religious taboos are being placed upon even discussing the subject in many communities, I find it highly appropriate that a movie such as Teeth has found its way into theaters. It is a brave move on the part of writer and director Mitchell Lichtenstein, incorporating ancient myth with rampant modern fears in a brilliant way that is both highly uncomfortable and disturbingly amusing to watch. Not only does Teeth parody the new religious abstinence movement gaining popularity in high schools, pointing out its flawed attempts to harness teenage hormones though guilt and fear of eternal damnation, but it also addresses such violent subjects as rape, incest and molestation and women’s powerlessness in certain situations. Lichtenstein presents these topics in Teeth with an insane black humor that seems both horribly wrong and ingeniously hysterical at the same time, making for a highly controversial statement about the interconnection between sex and violence in our society. However, the humor is only a derivative of the awakening realization of Dawn’s natural ability to protect herself and not of the actual act that is taking place. It is a delicate line that a director walks when attempting to create such a scene, as many would be easily offended by the comical representation of the situation if the scene were not expertly crafted both in direction and scripting. Lichtenstein miraculously is able to pull off this feat with ease. While viewing the film, during these particular scenes, I could hear the audience shifting restlessly in their seats at first only to burst into disgusted shouts and raucous bouts of uncontrollable laughter as the “gifted” girl on screen fought back, severing whatever appendage she was being assaulted with. It is a strange and uncomfortable place of societal contradictions that Teeth takes its audience to, one where the brutality of primitive human instinct does battle with civility, where our instinctual civil understanding of “right” and “wrong” is forced to walk the plank of black humor.

No doubt, this is not an easy film to watch; the castration scenes are bloody and brutal, the special effects disturbingly, nauseatingly realistic. However, no matter how twisted and demented the film turns, to matter depraved a depth it dives to, Lichtenstein and the amazing cast, somehow manage to make the audience laugh, a spectacular feat. Throughout the course of the movie we see Dawn transform psychologically as she is forced to call into question everything she has ever believed in or stood for, finding a new deranged sort of empowerment in her ability to protect herself. She is at first horrified by the violence she has inflicted upon her attackers, but quickly embraces her newfound ability as she learns to control it. Jess Weixler gives a brilliant performance, one that keeps the audience laughing throughout the film. Her reactions are both believable and comedic, her timing excellent and her interaction with the other actors within the movie, natural and confident. The rest of the cast also delivers equally impressive performances. Honestly, I feel that this movie could not have been more perfectly cast!

Overall, I give Teeth high marks! It is a controversial film that is current and unique, humorous and dark and above all original in a world of rehashed plotlines and remakes. Most definitely, it is a film that will keep people talking, whether they hate it or embrace it, for years to come. I have a feeling that we will definitely be seeing sequels due to the specific way this initial film ends. If you are a regular reader of my reviews then you know how I feel about sequels so I hope that Lichtenstein and his team are able to reproduce the same high quality of originality. This sort of film could very easily become cheesy if any aspect of it is sacrificed. If you do decide to see this movie, and I highly suggest that you do even though it may make you a bit nauseous, there is one lesson you boys should take away from this movie it is that you should never, ever piss a woman off when she has you in a compromising position. Regardless of whether or not she has teeth down there, it’s not going to be a pleasant situation.

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