Christopher Kul-Want
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Dreaming the unthinkable
The cinema of Yorgos Lanthimos
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Two considerations frame this chapter’s conceptualisation of Yorgos Lanthimos’ so-called ‘weird’ cinema: Walter Benjamin’s assertion that a totalitarian ‘state of emergency’ is now a perennial condition of political-juridical life in the west, and Todd McGowan’s observation that cinema is ‘a form of public dreaming’ shaped by the social imaginary. Comprised of six feature films – Kinetta (1995), Dogtooth (2009), Alps (2011), The Lobster (2015), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and The Favourite (2018) – Lanthimos’ cinema stages a series of dramas of familial and group conflicts that revolve around violent, often abusive power relations. Psychoanalytically, these films can be understood in terms of the Subject’s submissive attachment to the authority of the super-ego. At the same time, they can be seen as re-enactments of the excesses associated with the violent exercise of totalitarian power, the traumatic effects of which have their roots in Greece’s experience of a series of dictatorships dating back to the period of the Holocaust. Analogous to a sequence of dreams, the films can be seen to oscillate between, on the one hand, the representation of an enduring sense of psychic and ideological repression and, on the other hand, a wish to overcome such repression. The staging of this wish in the films reveals with a dramatic sense of force the co-dependency between the construction of the subject and the reproduction of ideology. If, as Lanthimos’ cinema implies, the subject’s identity is virtual, then it follows that Benjamin’s conception of the ‘state of emergency’ is an historically contingent phenomenon rather than an ontological condition.

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