Breeder (2020)

“I don’t like dogs,” says Mia Lindberg (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) in voiceover at the beginning of Jens Dahl’s Breeder, as the camera tracks past horses in individual pens. She feels differently, she explains, about her riding horse Karat. “I have to believe that I know what’s best for him. But maybe all I really am is his jailer.” Her comments about the unequal relationships between animals and their human keepers will come to resonate in a film where later Mia and other women will be imprisoned and treated like animals as part of an experimental programme, while their two sadistic handlers will go by the decidedly animalistic names ‘The Dog’ (Morten Holst) – whom Mia also will very much not like – and ‘The Pig’ (Jens Andersen). Here it will turn out that even humans can be objectified and bestialised, especially to serve the vain whims of ageing rich white men. 

The key to all this is genetic, as is suggested from the outset both by opening credits whose texts emerge from DNA-like patterns of the letters G, A, C and T, and from the very title Breeder. Aware, at 32 years old, that her biological clock is ticking, Mia is desperate to have a baby, but cannot get her otherwise perfect investment banker husband Thomas (Anders Heinrichsen) to have sex with her. Ironically enough, Thomas is heavily invested in a pioneering genetics programme run by Dr Isabel Ruben (Signe Egholm Olsen), who has found a way, at a price, to reverse the ageing process in men. Although her ‘treatment complex’ has not yet received any official approval, she already has a list of high-end clients. When Nika (Eeva Putro), the Russian au pair of the Lindbergs’ neighbour, comes to their door with a brand mark on her arm and a panicky tale of having escaped a violent abduction, Mia will stumble upon the horrifying secret behind Ruben’s technique, and find herself an instrumental part of other people’s plans for a longer, better life.   

Dahl’s film is a survival thriller of Sadean entrapment and maenadic revenge. Like Melanie Light’s short film The Herd (2014) and Baptiste Rouveure’s recent feature Anonymous Animals (Les Animaux Anonymes, 2020), Breeder uses the imagery of animal husbandry to expose the place of the marginalised, and of women, in a patriarchal food chain whose benefits are exclusively reaped by the men at the top. It is also replete with signifiers of erotic perversion – BDSM, urolagnia – that suggest that we are watching an allegorisation of the unbalanced relationships between the sexes as much as between the classes. For here, by the most extreme (and oblique) of means, Mia and Thomas – who each have their own kinks – are negotiating together what they really want, and finding a way to accommodate both sets of desires within their marital bond(s). After all, marriage is its own genetic experiment. Mia loves Thomas, but she also craves a baby that she can call her own – and preferably no Dog.

strap: Jens Dahl’s survival SF thriller Breeder achieves its own longevity by genetically merging class/gender inequalities and relationship kinks.

© Anton Bitel