Yorgos Lanthimos: Director of the Weird and Wonderful World of Poor Things

16 Apr 2024

5 Min Read

Yorgos Lanthimos is a Greek filmmaker who has carved out a unique niche for himself in the world of cinema. His films are known for their dark humor, absurdist situations, and unsettling atmosphere. But beneath the surface weirdness, there’s a deep exploration of human nature, relationships, and society.
In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into the evolution of Lanthimos’ filmmaking style, focusing on his most notable films: Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite, and Nimic. We’ll then explore the cinematography and style of his latest film, The Poor Things, examining his use of lighting, lenses, coloring, and the ground-breaking use of Ureal Engine and Virtual Production.

Emma Stone and Yorgos Lanthimos at BAFTA
Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone at BAFTA 2024

The Evolution of a Weirdo: A Look at Yorgos Lanthimos’ Films

Lanthimos’ early films, Dogtooth and Kinetta, are characterized by their claustrophobic settings and deadpan humor. Dogtooth, in particular, is a disturbing yet darkly comic tale of a family kept isolated from the outside world. The film’s artificiality and bizarre rituals create a sense of unease that stays with the viewer long after the credits roll.
In The Lobster, Lanthimos takes his absurdist humor to a new level. Set in a dystopian future where single people are forced to find a mate within 45 days or be turned into animals, the film is a hilarious and scathing commentary on modern relationships.
Lanthimos’ films began to gain wider recognition with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. This unsettling revenge thriller stars Colin Farrell as a man who claims his family is being cursed by a teenage boy. The film is a masterclass in building tension and suspense, with Lanthimos’ signature deadpan humor adding to the overall unease.
The Favourite marked a turning point in Lanthimos’ career. The film is a period piece set in the early 18th century, but it retains the director’s signature dark humor and unsettling atmosphere. The Favourite was a critical and commercial success, earning Lanthimos his first Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
Lanthimos’ latest film, Nimic, is a science fiction thriller set in a world where people can transfer their consciousness into other bodies. The film is a visually stunning and thought-provoking exploration of identity and humanity.

A World of Weird: The Tone and Themes of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Films

Lanthimos’ films are often described as weird, strange, or even disturbing. But beneath the surface weirdness, there’s a deep exploration of human nature, relationships, and society.
One of the recurring themes in Lanthimos’ films is the difficulty of human connection. His characters are often isolated and lonely, struggling to find meaning and purpose in a world that seems absurd.
Lanthimos’ films also often explore the nature of power and control. His characters are often at the mercy of forces beyond their control, whether it be the government, society, or even their own families.
The use of dark humor is another hallmark of Lanthimos’ style. His films are often funny, but the humor is often dark and unsettling. This juxtaposition of humor and darkness creates a unique atmosphere that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Yorgos Lanthimos, Barry Keoghan, Nicole Kidman, and Colin Farrell, for The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos, Barry Keoghan, Nicole Kidman, and Colin Farrell, for ``The Killing of a Sacred Deer``

Delving Deeper: Lighting, Lenses, and Coloring in The Poor Things

Lenses: Lanthimos and his cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, employ a variety of lenses in The Poor Things. One of their most striking choices is the extensive use of a rare 4mm fisheye lens. This lens captures an incredibly wide field of view, creating a distorted and almost dreamlike quality to certain scenes. This technique is particularly effective in moments of heightened emotion or absurdity, further emphasizing the film’s off-kilter world.
Coloring: Unlike the muted and cold palettes of some of his earlier films, The Poor Things embraces a richer and more vibrant color scheme. This reflects the film’s historical setting and the fantastical elements of Bella’s resurrected life. Lush pastels and bright hues dominate the Victorian scenes, while darker, moodier tones are used to depict the more unsettling aspects of the story. The color palette dynamically shifts throughout the film, mirroring Bella’s journey of self-discovery and the contrasting environments she encounters.

Poor Things Fisheye Lens
Cinematographer Robbie Ryan Creating the Fisheye Effect with the 4mm Lens.

A Pioneering Approach: Ureal Engine and Virtual Production

The Poor Things marks a significant leap forward in Lanthimos’ visual storytelling with its groundbreaking use of Ureal Engine and Virtual Production. Ureal Engine, a powerful game engine, allows for the creation of incredibly realistic and detailed virtual environments. Virtual Production integrates these environments with live-action footage, offering filmmakers a new level of creative freedom and control over the visual landscape.
In The Poor Things, Ureal Engine was used to create expansive digital sets, particularly for scenes set in Victorian London. This technology allowed for a level of historical accuracy and grandeur that would have been extremely challenging or cost-prohibitive to achieve with traditional sets. Additionally, Virtual Production facilitated the creation of fantastical elements, such as the underwater world Bella explores, seamlessly blending them with the live-action scenes.
The benefits of this approach extend beyond aesthetics. Ureal Engine’s real-time rendering capabilities allowed Lanthimos and his team to experiment with lighting and camera angles on the fly, leading to a more dynamic and visually engaging film. This innovative approach to filmmaking paves the way for future projects to push the boundaries of visual storytelling.

Poor Things Unreal Engine Virtual Production
Unreal Engine and Virtual Production for Poor Things

Conclusion: A Master of the Weird Continues to Evolve

Yorgos Lanthimos has established himself as a leading voice in contemporary cinema, crafting films that are both visually arresting and intellectually stimulating. The Poor Things demonstrates a significant evolution in his style, embracing a more vibrant visual palette and groundbreaking technology while retaining his signature dark humor and unsettling atmosphere. By delving into the complexities of human nature and societal norms through a warped lens, Lanthimos continues to challenge and entertain audiences, leaving them with a lingering sense of wonder and unease. His ability to constantly reinvent himself while retaining his core thematic concerns ensures his place as a director who will continue to surprise and enthrall viewers for years to come.

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