The Secret Lives of Dentists

Director: Alan Rudolph
Screenwriters: Craig Lucas, Jane Smiley

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


"Teeth outlast everything. Death is nothing to a tooth. Life is what destroys teeth." In a blend of fantasy and realism, Alan Rudolph brilliantly employs this dental observation as a powerful metaphor in this drama about a married-with-children couple silently watching their love relationship teeter toward dissolution.

Based on Jane Smiley's novella, The Age of Grief, Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists tells the story of Dr. Dave Hurst (Campbell Scott), who shares three children, two homes, and a private practice with his dentist wife, Dana (Hope Davis). One evening, backstage at Dana's drama-club production, Dave believes he witnesses his wife in an intimate exchange with another man. Emotionally repressed by nature, Dave's jealousy flares up in the form of a raucous alter ego personified by an unsatisfied patient, Slater (Denis Leary). Slater goads the quiet dentist toward violent action, but the unraveling of the emotional bonds in Hurst's marriage is much more of a challenge than the simple threat of aggression can solve.

Illuminated by superb performances by Scott and Davis, The Secret Lives of Dentists is an insightful and completely human portrait of a couple caught in the myriad of small subtle mistakes which two people make when they attempt to preserve love and passion while accepting the inevitable compromises and banality of marriage.

— Shari Frilot

Screening Details

As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]