Since his 2009 film, Dogtooth, clawed its way into the cult-film consciousness of the midwit cinephile users of Letterboxd, Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos has been a perplexing proposition. His subsequent offerings, such as The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), for example, have been hipsterish, aggravating, and depressing.
Lanthimos represented the worst tendencies of artistic production in the 2010s, in which the popular entertainment industry seemed to split into two narrow furrows: the superhero or franchise film, and the pseudo-Lynchian “weird” arthouse film. Because all art films became defined by this self-conscious “weirdness,” it started to feel like artists lacked the discipline to write fiction set within something resembling reality. Ambiguous endings, moody atmospherics, and gestures toward the surreal became so de rigeur that well-crafted genre or domestic dramas became temporarily extinct. Lanthimos, with his half-baked speculative fictions, was the worst offender of the A24-ification of the arthouse. Every film felt unfinished, ponderous, and leaned too hard on kitschy concepts that any honest critical inquiry would have concluded were mediocre.
So I was shocked to find myself loving every single second of Lanthimos’s newest film, Poor Things.
There is nothing half-baked, bleak, or unfinished about Poor Things. On the contrary, it is a riotously fun, hilarious, visually stunning, and complete work of art anchored in a firm worldview. Lanthimos appears reborn as an artist turning from degradation and nihilistic kitsch toward joy and beauty. With its hyper-vivid and deeply color-saturated set design and image quality, its deconstructed coming-of-age genre narrative, and its utterly next-level, virtuosic lead performance by Emma Stone, Lanthimos has managed to make a raucous, hilarious, and essentially upbeat film by employing the aesthetics of the Rabelasian grotesque. Within its maximalism, however, lurk several provocative challenges to popular thinking on issues of femininity and sex.