Vagina Dentata! It's What's Inside Me: Teeth (2007)

It is perhaps fitting that I close out this month of women oriented film with the 2007 pseudo-horror thriller Teeth, first, because it plays nicely into the triple threat of metaphor that has been this and the last two films I reviewed.  Second, it is a great bookend with I Spit on Your Grave, which began this month of film, because they both deal with sexual oppression, particularly acts of sexual violence, and the subsequent revenge one woman undertakes to correct such issues.  Both very much consider what constitutes revenge, and do so with a decidedly gritty attitude and complete dismissal of any value in their respective culture.  In I Spit on Your Grave, the film seems to condemn a lack of education and rural seclusion as the means to women being degraded and defiled, setting up a certain vision of the world in which rape and violence occurs.  While Teeth is certainly a little more broad in its constructs, its semi-rural setting, doubled with two oppressively present nuclear chimneys, is no more specified.  Both films, do draw upon the very visceral and terrifying experiences of rape, yet, both also manage to make it central to one figure.  Where Teeth proves slightly more revolutionary than its precursor, is in its attempts to negate a certain sort of moral looseness with the type of woman who would be "subject" to rape.  The main character in Teeth is decidedly conservative and certainly does not seek out sexual encounters, furthermore, her acts of vengeance, in many instances are not entirely a result of her own fruition, instead; something her body naturally rejects, because unwarranted sexual aggression is always wrong...always.  It would be one thing if the film simply used the plot of a woman with vagina dentata as a means to make an exploitative film, however, Teeth rarely uses the main woman and her nudity as a visual element, as opposed to its rampant use in I Spit On Your Grave.  Instead, director Mitchell Litchtenstein clearly takes the narrative and discussion he posits seriously.  The film jams issues of conservative ideals of sexual censorship, a rape-positive culture and the problematic medicalization of the woman's body into a fast-paced film which is surprisingly dense with commentary.  One could read the closing moments of the film as nihilistic, but it, in my opinion, says much more about a challenge to continuations of sexual violence and instead embraces an outright destruction of their possible occurrences.

Teeth focuses on a girl named Dawn (Jess Weixler) who is coping with the trouble of growing up with her sick mother, stepdad and lecherous stepbrother Brad (John Hensley).  Dawn is a simple young woman who finds solace and understanding by serving as an abstinence coach at her local high school, promoting purity and the wearing of a promise ring, in order, to save herself for the beauty of her marriage night.  While Dawn clearly has an affect on the people she speaks with, it would appear as though her family and those in her town are far less inclined to embrace such ideals, whether it be Brad, who continually spends his days getting high and having sex with his live-in girlfriend, whereas when Dawn is at school she is ridiculed for being chaste and choosing to abstain from sex.  However, Dawn finds support in a fellow abstinence supporter named Tobey (Hale Appleman) whom she begins to grow fond feelings for, even at one point intensely sexual ones.  When the two take a trip to the local creek for a swim, it is revealed that Tobey is a born-again virgin, and when the two swim into a secluded cave, Tobey attempts to engage in intercourse with Dawn, despite her repeated yelling of the word no.  It is during the rape, that Dawn's vagina appears to bite off Tobey penis, much to both of their surprises, which leads to Tobey bleeding to death, while Dawn hermits herself in her house, feeling gross and unsure about her body.  Research leads her to discover that she possesses an anomaly known as vagina dentata, which essentially means that she has teeth inside of her vagina, a myth arising from various pre-modern civilizations.  During a trip to the gynecologist, Dawn assumes that everything is fine, until the doctor becomes a bit to abrasive and forceful with his "inspection" leading her vagina to bite off his fingers.  Dawn is now incredibly worried about her safety, and seeks solace with a young man from her school who had shown interest in her, eventually engaging in willing intercourse with him, resulting in no damage to the man, yet when they go for another round of sex and it is discovered that he had a bet going on his ability to land Dawn, her instincts kick in and her vagina dentata kicks in.    All the while it is revealed that Brad through indifference and focusing on sex, allows his stepmother to fall over sick to the point of needing hospitalization.  Knowing that Brad has expressed sexual interest in her, Dawn seduces him and uses her "mutation" to castrate him, a last hoorah against terrible male oppressors before she escapes town via her bicycle.  When it breaks down, she hitches a ride with an old man, leading to the closing moments where the man makes sexual gestures towards the man.  Instead of feeling threatened, Dawn simply looks out the window and smirks, knowing well that she possesses a means to ward of his advances.

The film is obviously a metaphor, it is rather clear in the title and poster/box art.  However, to simply focus on the vagina dentata element would be to tragically overlook the other layers of symbolism and authority that would make Lacan proud in their execution.  The idea of circles plays very much into the themes of the film, suggesting an image and notion of unbroken perfection.  When Dawn is initially a spokesperson for abstinence she makes continual note of her purity ring, not to mention the image of the circle that covers all the pamphlets, posters and paraphernalia involved in their campaign, but this metaphor certainly extends beyond this moment.  When Dawn's class discusses the genitalia of the respective sexes, the students are confused when they are shown a male's penis, only to turn the page and find the vagina covered by a censorship sticker, that is, of course, a circle.  The teacher claims that the school board voted to censor such imagery.  The circle as pure, ironically, covers up the anatomical object which is responsible for birth.  The circle continues to be relevant when Dawn makes an effort to remove the sticker to discover the image of the vagina and its anatomical correctness, which viewers are to assume does not reflect the mutated version she possesses.  Finally, the circle emerges brilliantly in the form of a solar flare, when Dawn attempts to give an abstinence talk after her being raped, in this instance the burden of purity shines upon her almost as if to draw attention to her lying.  Of course, other imagery emerges within the text, the obvious one being phallic symbols of oppression, again in a very literal sense in the anatomy discussion Dawn's class engages in, however, it also emerges in regards to the nuclear power plant chimneys that rise into the air directly over Dawn's residence, penetrating the sky and the sensibilities of everyone in contact, in the case of Dawn they affect her in a very biological sense.  This all leads to the clear castration metaphor, one, entrenched in a rhetoric of evolution.  Dawn's body is not an abnormality, per se, but as her teacher suggest when referring to rattle snakes a means to evolve to survive.  In this metaphor it is clear, that the film is reminding viewers that sexual violence occurs far too frequently and it is only a matter of time before women's anatomy learns to adapt to stop its occurring.

Key Scene:  Dawn's unveiling of the female anatomy is well-shot and seems to drive home the commentary on women's oppressed sexuality, which is the overarching commentary of the film as a whole.

This film is intense, clever and reflective of the possibilities of the horror genre to consider social issues.    It is quite worth checking out and certainly cheap enough to justify owning.

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