In honor of Valentines Day and the Vagina Monologues, we’d like to pay homage to our favorite vagina-centric film, writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s 2007 Sundance splash, Teeth.
The film revolves around girl-next-door Dawn O’Keefe (played by the ever wide-eyed Jess Weixler), a small-town Texan and poster-child for the high school’s abstinence club. When what begins as Dawn’s innocent attraction to a fellow club member devolves into a violent sexual assault, she feels as though both her virginity and her morality are compromised. But much to Dawn’s surprise (and even more so to her attacker’s), in the midst of the assault, her vagina bites off her rapist’s penis— leaving nothing but a gouged, bloodied stump in its place. Bewildered by this bizarre occurrence and frightened by her own unknown, unrestrained power, Dawn visits the gynecologist (perhaps the film’s most defining scene, featured here in the trailer) only to discover that she has the rare condition “Vagina Dentata,” —aka teeth in her vagina. As she struggles to come to terms with the implications of what is at once her newfound sexual prowess and a tool of fatalistic destruction, the story becomes one of the femme-fatale: The once prudish, naïve Dawn harnesses her anatomical adaptation to assert her sexual independence and unleash wrath on any and all sexual predators.
Teeth is Lichtenstein’s debut feature film. In his ruthless exploitation of the outrageously inventive “Vagina Dentata,” he has successfully mastered the delicate balance of satire, humor, and gore requisite of black comedy, to ultimately create an indie cult hit.
Certainly much of its success can be attributed to Weixler, who won the Sundance Special Jury Prize for her depiction of young Dawn O’Keefe’s transformation from naive virgin to cult superwoman. Her every facial expression suggests a nuanced concoction of terror and bewilderment brewing within, a perfect (and comical) encapsulation of the sentiment we imagine would be customary in discovering teeth in one’s vagina.
Though the plot merely grazes issues such as the coming of age and the loss of innocence, female sexuality, and the relationship between sex and love, to read too deeply into the psychoanalysis motivating a character with a toothed vagina is humor in and of itself.
Rather, the film’s primary purpose lies in its value as entertainment—that the image of a dog gnawing a severed penis can simultaneously make you recoil in horror and laugh aloud. Thus despite it’s inability to offer much in the way of analytical complexity, as a dark yet light-hearted, deeply engaging comedy, it’s one you can really sink your teeth into.