Yorgos Lanthimos and the Absurd Limits of Social Control
As the Greek director returns with “The Favourite,” we look back at the movies that got him here.
Welcome to Flashback Fandor! Our staff of movie scientists have dug through our Library-of-Congress-sized archives to unearth our best (and still topical) videos and articles.
Both The Lobster (2015) and writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous Oscar nominee, Dogtooth (2009), examine extreme and even absurdist situations of social control. The Lobster is a hyperbolic reflection of our own cultural obsession with coupledom, in which people face literal de-humanization for failing to find a romantic partner. Dogtooth, on the other hand, looks at a single family that functions as a microcosm of autocracy.
In its use of absurdity and allegory, Dogtooth is not unlike an Animal Farm for our contemporary moment. The patriarch of Dogtooth sings nationalist songs about allegiance to the household and obsesses over the sovereignty of his home’s borders. He speaks with a dog trainer about the value of unquestioning obedience shortly before instructing his own family to bark on their hands and knees. The father stands in for the authoritarian nationalist, demanding obedience supposedly in the service of security. But he goes beyond even the wildest dreams of any would-be dictator, training his children from birth to act as he wishes, and, more importantly, to believe what he wishes. The children’s whole concept of the world is determined by their father’s desires. More extreme than the desire to control civic life that defines other forms of state authority, the desire to control the most basic aspects of another’s personal life is a hallmark of totalitarianism.
In 2009, when Dogtooth was released in its native Greece, nationalist far-right groups were already gaining power in the wake of the global financial crisis. In view of ascendant right-wing ideologies throughout Europe and in the United States—ideologies that exhibit hostility to the very idea of demonstrable facts, Dogtooth now seems more relevant than ever. What becomes of a totalitarian figure who seeks to control reality itself? What becomes of his subjects?