By Camden Ferrell
Disclaimer: Heavy spoilers for The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Favourite.
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most prominent and distinctive directors working today. This 3-time Oscar nominee directed his first solo feature in 2005, Kinetta. Since then, he has directed some intriguing Greek cinema like Dogtooth and Alps before transitioning to English language films. His style has always been a distinctive one. You can always find traces of his previous films in every new movie he directs, and it gives each film a sense of thematic and stylistic connectivity. For this piece, we will be mostly focused on his three most recent features, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Favourite. Between these three films, Lanthimos thoroughly explores the ideas of shared emotion, decision making, and looming uncertainty.
2015’s The Lobster holds a special place in my heart and history as a cinephile, and a lot of this comes from the way Lanthimos highlights the aforementioned concepts. In this satirical look at modern dating culture, David is sent to a hotel where he must find a partner in 45 days, or he will be turned into the animal of his choice. After many failed (albeit darkly comical) exploits, David defects from the hotel to join a group of loners. There, he meets the Short-Sighted Woman and falls in love with her. This contrast between the true love they share and the fake love he had for other women in the film is what gives the movie an emotional core. It explores the idea of what it means to love, but he takes it a step further by showing the decisions that are made as a result of shared emotion. However, with every decision, the audience as well as the characters question the choice, and it creates a subtle sense of unease and uncertainty that define Lanthimos’s later works. By the end of the film, we see David and the Short-Sighted Woman, who is now blind, leave the loners to start a new life. However, in a society where couples must share a common trait, David stands in the bathroom with a knife held scarily close to his eye, unsure of whether or not to blind himself. This ambiguity makes The Lobster such a moving yet deeply unsettling film, and it’s an ending that Lanthimos has perfected throughout his career.
In his follow-up feature, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, he explores similar ideas in a much more sinister way. Steven, a successful surgeon, encounters a boy named Martin. We learn that Martin’s father died during surgery ten years prior when Steven was drunk and operating. Martin says that in order to restore balance, Steven must kill a member of his family, either his wife, son, or daughter, or they will all slowly get sick and die. Lanthimos has a strange way of horrifying the audience with this disturbing premise while also infusing some of his own visual and comic style. The main emotions in this movie are fear and paranoia. This is shared amongst all the family members as they are unsure of how to proceed in this difficult situation. This paranoia compels Steven’s wife to perform a sexual act on one of his former colleagues to get to the bottom of the situation. Each kid tries to convince their father in many ways to spare their lives, and Steven is driven to kidnapping and assault in this ordeal. Many crucial decisions are made, and each one leads to more problems as they are guided by each of their shared emotions. After Steven finally kills one of his family members, the movie ends on a solemn and somber note. While it’s not ambiguous like The Lobster, the end still leaves the viewer disturbed, distressed, and wondering if the character’s choices were the correct ones.
In his most recent film, 2018’s The Favourite, Lanthimos once again revisits these central ideas and themes. Even though he didn’t write this film, he infused plenty of his own style into the film. In this 18th century love triangle, Queen Anne of England is in love with her friend Lady Sarah, but when Sarah’s cousin Abigail comes to be a servant, Anne and Abigail begin their own relationship. Throughout the film Sarah and Abigail continuously try to win the Queen’s favor, and this leads to escalating hijinks and deceptions throughout the film. While a lot of the movie is led by the character’s love for Queen Anne, another element is their feelings of jealousy and vulnerability, and their continuous need to have the last laugh. Lanthimos does a great job at focusing on all the decisions that are made by these emotional characters and reflecting on all of the consequences. Instead of having uncertainty course through the entire movie like his previous works, he opts instead to let that uncertainty nail the audience in the film’s final moments. After all of the character’s decisions, we know who the titular favorite is, but in the end the character questions if that’s what they even want anymore. It’s a brilliant ending that is so effective due to the execution of Lanthimos and his implementation of the skills he developed in his career.
Lanthimos is a multi-faceted director, but there are still unifying factors in every movie he makes, and this can be traced back all the way to Kinetta. He is phenomenal at creating emotionally developed characters and exemplifying the innate uncertainty that accompanies every decision in his movies. He has proven to be an influential and significant director in modern cinema, and this is seen through the way he uniquely makes his films.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s solo debut, Kinetta, is now streaming on Criterion Channel.
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