In 2011 a young Greek director came to light, as his astoundingly weird feature film Dogtooth was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He followed with the generally well received 2012 drama Alps, and as of this year, his latest film The Lobster, has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay in the upcoming Academy Awards. Whether you like his films or not, one must admit that Yorgos Lanthimos is definitely a visionary.
It is not very often that we see a film so extraordinary being nominated for a major category by the Academy, so I decided to revisit Lanthimos’ three exceptional films once again. In this article I will be exploring the main themes used in these three films; Power, Death, and Love.
Dogtooth and the power of the authority:
Opening with three teenagers; a boy and two girls, listening to a tape; an authoritarian voice chimes in dictating the new vocab words of the day. However this is not the usual language learning lesson one might expect. “Sea” is a leather chair, like the one in the living room, the voice says, and “Shotgun” is a beautiful white bird.
This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. The plot revolves around a couple that live isolated from the urban population. The father creates a deeply distorted reality for his children; one in which cats are vicious creatures that might kill any of them if they venture outside the property, and where they can never leave unless their canine tooth falls out and then grows back. The man’s intentions for his actions are unclear, but it is deeply evident that both parents think that the outside world could corrupt their children, and eventually lead them astray.
The three siblings, though they appear in their twenties, seem to have the mentalities of ten year old children, they spend their days playing mindless games, most of which are created by their parents. Their mistakes are met with severe punishment, and they are repeatedly pushed to compete with each other over meaningless trophies. The framework of the system the father has created begins to collapse when he brings in a young woman from his workplace to pleasure his son. What follows is a rather bewildering turn of events that is best left untold.
Whether it’s a film that is weird just for the sake of being weird, or a cautionary tale against following the figures of authority, Dogtooth certainly provokes the thought of its viewer. For me, it was clearly a political allegory that follows the consequences of modern day dictatorships, and how they affect their people. The deceitful language used by the father explores the role of the media in present day societies, as it follows oppressive governments to falsify the reality of the people. In our world today, the average individual is spoon-fed the facts and principles of their own surroundings, but how much of it is actually true? Moreover, are we, as a people, pushed by such states into sabotaging ourselves and relentlessly competing with each other over worthless goals? The answers to these questions are up to the viewer.
Alps and the way death shapes our identities:
In this slow-paced drama, a group of people; a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast, and her coach, start a small business called Alps. Their work consists mainly of impersonating the deceased, in order to help their families cope with their loss. However, for the nurse, portrayed beautifully by Aggeliki Papoulia, work begins to take over her real life and soon she begins to lose her grip on reality.
Whether it’s the underdeveloped storyline, or the fact that the director’s previous and much more successful work Dogtooth ultimately generates comparison between the two films, Alps eventually fails to grab its viewer’s attention. With a story that is way more rooted in reality, the film explores the way death shapes our identities, and how somehow most of the memories that remain from us are of our favorite actors and singers.
“Awareness of human mortality arose some 150,000 years ago. In that extremely short span of evolutionary time, humans have fashioned a single basic mechanism through which they deal with the existential death anxieties this awareness has evoked—denial in its many forms.”
There is something very fascinating about the way the characters deal with death, the families especially, as they seem satisfied by the services provided by the group, despite the painfully stiff performances and apathetic monologues read by them as substitutes of the deceased. The way the group members carry on with their lives outside their business; dull, monotonous, and eminently unambitious, illustrates the importance of this work to them. The services they offer might as well be the uttermost form of altruism of their lives. After all, their roles are like the Alps Mountains; irreplaceable, they can replace any other mountain, but can never be replaced themselves.
The Lobster and defying the norm:
In his latest film, Lanthimos mocks society’s rules on love and relationships with his witty dialogue, and eccentric symbolism. Set against the magnificent landscape of Ireland, in a dystopian near future, all single individuals are sent to The Hotel, where they are demanded to find a partner within forty five days, otherwise they’ll be turned into animals. The film follows its main character David (Collin Farell), as he shifts in his stay from the camp of the couple-seeking guests at The Hotel, to the single rebellious “loners” living in the woods in near complete austerity. When he breaks the rules of the loners, and falls in love with another loner (Rachel Weisz), the couple’s situation becomes both endangering and complicated.
Shining a light on the way society pressures its single members into relationships, and idealizes partnership as the ultimate form of protection and stability, The Lobster ventures to explore the efficiency of the system upon which our entire society is built. When guided to find a partner, the guests at the hotel are advised to find one common preference between them and their possible partner, whether it’s a limb, a lisp, or the liability to occasional nose bleeds. The superficiality of these common traits prompts some of the guests to feign such disabilities in order to find a partner and avoid the fate of being turned into an animal.
When they actually fall in love, David and the loner woman instantly recognize a common distinction between them; short-sight. However, when the loner woman loses this trait, the couple struggle to find common ground between them once again. The fact that the majority of society, represented in The Hotel, insist on finding one common trait between new couples, actually puts pressure on David and the loner’s relationship. It weakens the power of love, clearly found between the two, as they fail to conform to society’s demands for a healthy relationship.
With the use of an exceptional soundtrack, and stunning camera work; ranging from slow motion in the most violent scenes, to the director’s signature static shots, The Lobster never fails to impress. It is a social commentary piece shaped in the form of a black comedy that will definitely has its viewer laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Yet by the end of the day, this is a thought provoking film that audiences do not get to see very often, one that will be regarded as a classic piece of cinema instantly.
Whether he uses a false reality created by normal people as in Dogtooth, simply a peculiar business set entirely in the real world as in Alps, or a completely artificial world as in The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos never fails to deliver his sharp and ingenious remarks on society’s most basic principles. His films reflect the fundamental rules that govern our daily lives, yet are accepted without the slightest form of doubt. It is especially important to view such films occasionally; otherwise one might become entangled into the conformist values of our modern day societies.
If you had a different thought regarding these films, make sure to express it in the comments below. After all, it’s the ability of these films to ignite discussion that makes them really standout.