Night Moves / International premiere

Teeth

  • Mitchell Lichtenstein /
  • USA /
  • 2007 /
  • 88 mins

Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, Josh Pais / Fiction / English

They're sharp. They bite. And they're not in her mouth...


True love waits, or so earnest teenager Dawn (Jess Wexler) believes. Self-love also waits. Anything involving intimate knowledge of her own body is pretty much being indefinitely delayed, in the name of God and her future husband. (Presumably she’s already processed the trauma of menstruation, though Mitchell Lichtenstein’s film doesn’t go into that.) Dawn’s school district backs her up, too: in the biology textbooks, male genitalia gets full exposure, but girls’ stuff is primly covered by a big gold star, in the interests of protecting women’s “natural modesty”.

Nature can be a bitch, though. When Dawn meets fellow Christian abstainer Tobey (Hale Appleman), feelings begin to stir in her that make it more and more difficult to preserve that all-important modesty. Teeth makes a point here that’s somewhat softer than the others it raises, but no less relevant: that sexual desire is a massive destabilising force, against which the resolution to preserve virtue can be a very ineffectual defence.

Dawn’s virtue proves to be the least of Tobey’s worries, however. When he crosses that fine line that separates “forceful encouragement” from “date rape”, her body reveals its secrets – and not quite in the way that he hopes. Because down there, in place of what you’d expect, Dawn has an ancient cross-cultural myth expressive of female power and male vulnerability! And it bites! Though she doesn’t remember using it, it’s been protecting Dawn from unwanted advances since she was a little girl.

Such advances prove to be everywhere. Beneath the raucous comedy and the breathtaking gore that characterise Lichtenstein’s gleefully entertaining debut, there’s a thesis worthy of Andrea Dworkin: that men and women alike grow up associating sex with conquest and as such with violation, and that a male-dominated culture cannot support female sexual autonomy. No sooner has Dawn recognised her abnormality than it comes into frequent use, on an over-zealous gynaecologist, another hot-to-trot boyfriend, and even her own half-brother.

So is this a feminist scare story, a rape/revenge fable, a misogynistic fantasy, or just schlock horror with a sexy spin? Does it ultimately argue that true love should indeed wait – or that all men are dogs-in-waiting who deserve pre-emptive punishment? One suspects, in the end, that Lichtenstein’s film does not intend to take a position, but rather seeks to channel the earnest energy from each of these standpoints into a collage of contemporary sexual fears and hypocrisies – just as the director’s father, the pop art icon Roy Lichtenstein, examined his subjects not as they were, but through the lens of pop culture.
Hannah McGill

2007 Archive

Image from Teeth

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