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Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (Koirat eivät käytä housuja), a 2019 Finnish “erotic black comedy,” is billed as a story about the healing power of BDSM. But is it? We weren’t convinced. As kinksters, it’s always a pleasant surprise to find a film where the writer/director has done some homework and attempts to show some aspects of BDSM realistically. Some movies don’t even try. Unfortunately, this story of a man’s struggle with survivor’s guilt and kink addiction displays few elements of healthy, consensual BDSM. We have a lot more to say about this movie and it’s lone developed (male) character. Read on for a recap and critique.
RECAP (includes spoilers)
The movie focuses on Juha (Pekka Strang), a middle-aged surgeon who never recovered from his wife’s tragic drowning more than a decade before. Since then, he’s more or less been sleepwalking through life while working and raising his now teenaged daughter. The only pleasure he has—if you can call it that—is a sad masturbation routine that involves suffocating himself with an old dress of his wife’s that he sprays with her perfume.
For his daughter’s birthday, Juha agrees to take her to a sketchy looking tattoo parlor to get her tongue pierced. While waiting for her, he wanders down to the lower level of the building where he unwittingly finds himself in a BDSM dungeon. As he reaches out to tentatively touch a mannequin covered with spikes, a dominatrix lunges out of the shadows and whacks his arm before dropping him to the ground and choking him with a riding crop. He struggles at first but then relaxes as he has a vision of the lake where his wife drowned. The domme releases Juha when his daughter interrupts them, crushing his thumbnail with her heel as she jumps up and disappears.
Juha becomes fixated on the dark bruise that develops on his thumb as a result of this bizarre, nonconsensual encounter. He tracks down the domme, Mona (Krista Kosonen), and books a session. It becomes clear when they meet that she will fulfill his needs only after he fulfills hers. She calls him a dog and forces him to play the part, which he obviously has no interest in. But the trade-off is worth it to him to indulge his asphyxiation fetish, which was launched into overdrive when Mona choked him during their initial encounter. He longs to see his wife again even if only in a liminal state prior to passing out.
Juha quickly becomes addicted to this suffocation experience and asks Mona for longer periods of asphyxiation so he can catch more glimpses of his wife. Rather than helping him move on with his life, these sessions seem to root him more firmly in the past and his own grief to the point that he ends up jeopardizing his job and neglecting his daughter to focus on his unhealthy obsession.
Mona is simultaneously drawn to Juha’s fetish and repelled by the intensity of it for fear he may die. She does attempt to end their sessions after a particularly close call, but Juha pursues her relentlessly. She has trouble focusing as a domme and fails to respond to another client’s safeword right away. Mona and Juha have clearly gotten in each other’s heads, but it doesn’t seem to do either of them any good.
Finally, Juha tracks Mona down at her apartment and convinces her to do one final scene with him by telling her she can hurt him however she likes as long as she strangles him afterward. This stops her in her tracks. He says, “You’ll think of something. Be so kind.” “Kind?” she replies, “You’ve got me all wrong.” Juha then sweetens the deal by renouncing safewords and stating that if Mona agrees, he’ll never bother her again. “Dogs don’t stand on two feet,” she says with a faint smile. Juha happily gets down on all fours and follows her up the stairs.
Once they enter her apartment, Mona ties Juha’s hands to a doorknob with her stockings and produces a pair of pliers. Juha asks what she’s going to do, and she calmly announces that she’s going to remove one of his teeth. He says no, that he meant she could hit him or something along those lines. She says he’s free to leave, but if he does, he can never come back. Knowing he won’t get what he came for unless he lets her proceed, he tells her to pull the tooth.
After the excruciating deed is done, it’s his turn. Mona wraps an alarming quantity of cling wrap around his face and asphyxiates him, but her determination wavers and she lets him breathe before he passes out, accusing him of coming there to kill himself. “I’m not what you’re looking for,” she says. Before he can respond, she races into the kitchen and confusingly returns with a knife, which she uses to cut his shirt while weeping. Juha awkwardly tries to comfort her, which leads to him kissing her and then slapping her. Mona gets up and goes into another room, at which point Juha, assuming he’s ruined things, leaves. Mona then returns holding Juha’s dead wife’s dress, which she had worn in previous scenes while strangling him.
Afterward, Juha tries to pick up the pieces of his life. He no longer seems obsessed with Mona and makes a feeble attempt to repair his relationship with his daughter, whom he’s ignored for most of the movie. The film ends with him returning to a BDSM club he’d been rejected from earlier during his pursuit of Mona. This time, he arrives dressed in fetish gear and is allowed in. He doesn’t appear to be looking for Mona but rather attempting to partake in the BDSM community. He downs numerous drinks at the bar to get up the courage to dance. Just as he seems to be enjoying himself, he spots Mona across the room. He grins at her with his newly toothless smile, and she smiles back.
Mona is thinly developed throughout the movie. The one detail we know about her is that she’s a physical therapist by day, but her desire to help people as a domme is questionable. As we see in her initial unplanned encounter with Juha, she has a loose grasp of consent and boundaries and is ultimately willing to go along with his increasingly risky requests because they serve as an outlet for her own sadism.
The latter part of the movie seems to want us to believe that Juha has finally achieved catharsis and is moving on while learning to engage in BDSM in a healthy way, but that doesn’t ring true. He is clearly unhinged when he shows up at Mona’s apartment, yet she agrees to his unsafe proposal because she’s equally unhinged in her own way. She doesn’t want him to die but is willing to teeter on the edge with him and lose control even though she’s the pro who should know better. Even when he wants to back out, she coerces him into staying by making it clear that he won’t get what he wants unless he lets her hurt him. After the aborted scene in her apartment, Juha does start to move on with his life, but this seems less connected to catharsis than it does to simply realizing he’s taken his asphyxiation fetish as far as it can go without dying, and it’s time to truly start living whether he’s happy or not.
The final scene at the BDSM club is particularly confusing because despite his fetish, Juha has never shown any real interest in BDSM beyond his narrow focus with Mona, let alone the BDSM community at large. And while he doesn’t appear to be at the club to find Mona, he in fact does see her there. What this means for his future isn’t clear, but it seems dubious that he’s somehow worked through all his issues.
As the saying goes, BDSM can be therapeutic, but it’s not therapy—something both the main characters in Dogs Don’t Wear Pants desperately need.