According to Wikipedia, “vagina dentata is Latin for toothed vagina. Various cultures have folk tales about women with toothed vaginas, frequently told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex with strange women.”
Teeth, the most talked about entry in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, is built around this concept of vagina dentata and demonstrated in its main character. Billed as “the most alarming cautionary tale to men since Fatal Attraction,” Teeth is a brazen black comedy/horror film that will leave male viewers feeling diminished after entering triumphantly.
High-school student Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) is a huge proponent of abstinence. In fact, she is a speaker for “The Promise,” a local group that informs young minds of the importance of purity. As a symbol of her chastity, Dawn wears, and encourages others to wear, a red ring — meant to be worn until you trade it in for a gold one on your wedding day.
Even though Dawn is firmly against sex, oral sex, groping, making out, and masturbation, she is surrounded by temptation. Her rebellious half-brother Brad (John Hensley) smokes weed, listens to head-banging music, and has sex with his girlfriend loud enough for Dawn to hear. All the while, Brad keeps his Rottweiler named Mother and his infatuation with Dawn caged in his room.
Adding to the lure, Dawn meets Toby Cobb (Josh Pais) — a new student and fellow proponent of chastity — and the pair share an instant attraction. With Toby in her head and Brad in the back of her consciousness, Dawn discovers that she has a toothed vagina. This anatomical discovery sends her on a roller coaster of emotions, obstacles, and advantages.
As one would expect, Teeth is packed with vagina symbolism: in a gouged tree, the waterfall/cave, holy jeans, etc. What’s more, the move showcases endless biting references: Brad gets too close to his dog, there is a giant black and white scorpion, a screaming head of Medusa, chomping sounds in the hospital, tooth analysis, and an OB-GYN saying, “Don’t worry; I’m not going to bite you.” To top off the vagina dentata references, Teeth features an endless array of bloody stumps and severed penises (with more than one member of the animal kingdom involved in their consumption).
Teeth is an amusingly gory film that’s more about the risks associated with sexual intercourse and female dominance than nudity and castration. It’s a tale of a female victim turned hero with an unexplained genital mutation. Aside from a lecture on the sudden mutation of the rattlesnake and the rant on the “Adam inside” and “Serpent,” the genetic “adaptation” is never discussed. However, writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein stresses the nearby nuclear power plant (Containment, anyone?) as a justifiable origin.
When all is said and done, Teeth is intriguing in theory and fun to watch. While it redefines the lingo for intercourse from in-and-out to in-and-off, it constantly makes you scream. In addition, Teeth turns the typical depiction of the vagina as a delicate flower and passageway to the life-giving womb on its ear. As you leave your seat, consider yourself highly informed that “sex changes everything” and “every rose has its thorns.” Through it all, one thing’s for sure: Teeth will be a controversial cult favorite even when it’s long in the tooth.