Tag Archives: Yorgos Lanthimos

Alive and Thinking

Poor Things

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Frankenstein was a breathing, bleeding act of feminism, not because Mary Shelly’s masterpiece illuminated or elevated women’s discourse, but because Mary Shelly – an 18-year-old girl – created science fiction.

Naturally, her husband took credit.

Many, many writers and filmmakers have taken a stab at reimagining Shelly’s ideas. None is as astonishing as Yorgos Lanthimos and the triumph that is Poor Things.

Working from a script by Tony McNamara and Alasdair Gray, Lanthimos creates a luscious world that is difficult to pin down. It’s part Victorian England, part Blade Runner 2049, and it is where Bella Baxter evolves to challenge the patriarchal notions that surround her.

Bella (Emma Stone, sheer perfection) is brought back from the dead by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), a scientist with no romantic notions about polite society – or about Bella, for that matter. Dr. Baxter reanimates Bella’s adult body with the brain of a small child, and under his watch, Bella develops sans the outside pressures of conformity to societal expectations. Which is to say, she thrives.

Imagine a woman’s sense of self forming without shame, without the stifling existence of it. Lanthimos, McNamara and Gray have done just that, and the result is exhilarating.

Still, “God” (as Bella calls him) wishes to keep her safe, as does God’s beguiled assistant, Max (Remy Youssef). But Bella must experience life, and the adventure she fearlessly attacks is simultaneously hilarious, daring, lewd, ingenious and completely intoxicating.

The arc of Bella’s character is as satisfying as anything put to screen, and Stone revels in every unexpected, delightful, brash moment. And though it’s tough to pull your eyes away from Stone, along comes Mark Ruffalo to commit grand larceny with every scene of his hysterical cad Duncan Wedderburn, who indulges his ego teaching Bella about “furious jumping” (take a wild guess) but is reduced to mush when she moves past him without mercy or apology.

Expect Oscar nods for both, and they won’t be alone here.

Lanthimos’s direction is again nimble and ambitious, dipping back into his bag of angles and staging for a feast of ambitious panache. The result is a perfect visual complement to Bella’s journey of intellectual and philosophical wonder, one always buoyed by vivid cinematography from Robbie Ryan (The Favourite), and Holly Waddington’s wonderful costuming.

Poor Things may find longtime Yorgos fans spotting thematic terrain that’s similar to 2009’s Dogtooth, but these latest questions he’s pondering are even more pointed and brilliantly satirical.

What if someone could navigate the world anew, armed with the benefit of physical independence, but with a complete social naïveté that came merely from inexperience rather than isolation? And what if that someone was a woman in a man’s man’s man’s man’s world?

That someone is Bella Baxter, and Poor Things makes her gloriously alive, in ways you’ll probably wish you could be.

Consider the Monarch

The Favourite

by Matt Weiner

Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is someone you might charitably describe as “uncompromising.” His last two English-language films include a dystopian romantic comedy and a revenge thriller rooted in Greek mythology. So it is both a delight and a relief to see in The Favourite that Lanthimos at his most accessible is also his best yet.

The story for The Favourite was originally written by Deborah Davis, later joined by Tony McNamara but with no screenplay credit for Lanthimos—a rarity. The film covers the later years of Queen Anne’s reign, during which the War of the Spanish Succession and political jockeying in Parliament are tearing the indecisive, physically frail queen in multiple directions.

But the men of the court are little more than foppish pawns. The real palace intrigue takes place between court favorite Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her new maid, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), daughter to a once-prosperous family that has fallen on hard times. Sarah and Abigail vie for Queen Anne’s affection and behind-the-scenes power, although those two things are entangled together to varying degrees for Sarah and Abigail.

The Favourite might be dressed up as a period piece, but it’s not a demandingly historical one. Lanthimos admits to taking significant poetic license with the relationship and events between the three women. The effect isn’t just practical (although this should come as some relief if, like me, you were dreading a Wikipedia deep-dive on Whiggism).

It’s also an avenue by which Lanthimos can smuggle in his trademark eye for the very contemporary and very weird, cruel ways we treat each other. And in this area, Lanthimos has cast the perfect leading women to keep up with—and even rise above—his vision.

Stone and Weisz play off each other to perfection, with pitch black verbal volleys that threaten to turn as deadly as the war taking place beyond the mannered confines of the palace. But it’s Olivia Colman who dominates every scene, which is all the more impressive for her mercurial take on the physically deteriorating Queen Anne. Colman brings a measure of sympathy to Queen Anne that transcends what could have been played for easy mockery, and she deserves every award coming her way this year.

Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan (American Honey, Slow West) keep the camera movement as brisk as the dialogue. The film’s frequent and disorienting use of fisheye is a recurring signature, but even the more conventional wide shots manage to combine a palatial sense of openness with Lanthimos’s signature creeping, queasy dread.

It felt strange to laugh out loud so much during a Lanthimos movie, especially with the undercurrents of violence and misanthropy that stalk The Favourite. Maybe it was the irrepressible performances from the leading women. Or maybe lines like “No one bets on whist!” are just inherently funny.

Whatever the reason, this deadly serious comedy of manners is among the director’s—and the year’s—best.

No One Is to Blame

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

by Hope Madden

What if God exists and he’s an awkward adolescent boy?

That’s not exactly the point of Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but it’s maybe as close a description as I can muster.

Lanthimos’s work (The Lobster, Dogtooth) does tend to balk at simple summarization, none more so than Sacred Deer. The film offers a look inside the life of a successful surgeon (Colin Farrell), whose opthamologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic) are, well, perfect.

It’s the kind of perfect you might find in a Stanley Kubrick film—cold, clean, sterile. In fact, from the framing to the violently intrusive score to the thematic suspicion of intimacy, Sacred Deer leans heavily Kubrick.

But Lanthimos brings with him a particular type of absurdity all his own. He hints at it with the memorable opening shot and deepens it with the now-characteristic stilted, oddly detached dialog.

But the filmmaker’s unique tone finds its perfect vehicle in Barry Keoghan (also wonderful this year in Dunkirk). Unsettlingly serene as Martin, the teenage son of a patient killed on the surgeon’s table, he controls the film and its events.

With Martin, Lanthimos is able to mine ideas of God, of the God complex, of the potentially ludicrous notion of cosmic justice.

All the while he sends up social norms, dissecting the concept of the nuclear family and wondering at the lengths we will go to avoid accountability.

Sacred Deer, though certainly absurd, lacks the comedic flourish of 2015’s The Lobster. This film’s comedy is ink black and subversive in a way that’s equally likely to break your heart as draw a chuckle. This is particularly true as Anna and her children begin bargaining for their lives in scenes that are astonishing in their insight.

Nicole Kidman is chilly perfection in a surprisingly unlikeable role. The uneasy chemistry she shares with Farrell helps the film balance its weirdness with moments of authenticity. She and Farrell shared the screen earlier this year in the also engrossing The Beguiled, a fact you may almost forget as they trade in the steamy tension of the first relationship for the frosty, antiseptic nature of this one.

As was true with The Lobster, Farrell comfortably shoulders lead responsibilities in Lanthimos’s weird world. His scenes with Keoghan, at first treated as if some kind of illicit affair, give the film its unsettling power.

Their karmic battle strangely told will be hard to forget.