The Power of Enigmatic Endings in Yorgos Lanthimos Cinema


Browsing on the internet, if you ever type a Yorgos Lanthimos movie title, you have a lot of chances to find ‘explained’ next to it. In fact, all his films seem to attract the general public while eluding it. If this is mostly due to his unsettling, uncanny stories and mise-en-scène, the endings of his films are certainly a great part of it. Lanthimos has a sense of ending at the perfect moment which will make the spectator ask himself questions to which each answer can cast a new light on the film. This is especially apparent in The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Favourite. In these three films, the endings have the common trait of being extremely open to interpretation. However, and what is most impressive, is how they do not make us reflect in the same ways.

In The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos stops his film to invite the spectator inside of it in some sense. As a quick summary, David, now single, is sent to a hotel where he has 45 days to find a partner who has a visible common trait with him, or he will be transformed into an animal. We slowly find out that a lot of people are cheating such as John who smashes his head in order to have nosebleeds like his partner. David later escapes and join ‘the loners’ who forbid any kind of relationship. When David who is short-sighted begins a romance with another short-sighted woman, the loners leader blinds the girl. They leave and the film ends at a restaurant with David pointing a knife at his own eyes. This ending does not tell us whether David blinds himself to be like his partner or not. Lanthimos invites the spectator to choose a side. Is it society that forces him to indulge in this fake love or has he evolved enough to understand that he does not have to be blind to be with Rachel Weisz’s character?

Throughout the film, everything is expressed in binaries. David cannot be bisexual he has to choose between heterosexual and homosexual and if you are not in a couple then you are with the loners. There is no middle ground. However, by the end of the film, the characters seem to have reached a place where they could potentially be together without the rules that were previously imposed on them. If David blinds himself, he recognises that relationships are based on the rules that were created, somehow similar to the rules of online dating which claim to match people according to their similar tastes. If he doesn’t, he could either lie to his partner like John did about his nosebleed or he could start believing that love does not rely on one simple common trait. By leaving this ending open, Lanthimos invites the spectator to decide what human nature is in this critique of our society and what are relationships.

In a totally different way, Killing of a Sacred Deer leaves us with a haunting ending. Rather than presenting us with a choice, it is the character that has to take one, killing one of his two children or his wife. This ending leaves us with many questions surrounding the theme of this film and its meaning. When the main character is spinning around with his gun, the film could end as the boy is shot but the film goes on for one more, apparently meaningless, sequence. Steve, Anna, and Kim all go to the restaurant where they see Martin and eat fries. If this was a few years later after the crime, maybe this sequence could show how they have moved on from the death of Bob however this scene is clearly set soon after the murder as Kim has not aged at all.  The meaning of this scene is then, purely symbolical. In this film, there is a clear separation between dirtiness and cleanness. The places all seem sterilised and even the characters, especially Steven and Anna, the parents. However, they only are on the outside. In fact, it is Steven’s fault if Martin’s father died and Anna, even if she does not agree with him, ends up being complicit of this knowledge. The innocent ones are therefore the children, Kim and Bob. At the beginning of the film, Steven is seen throwing away bloody gloves to reveal his hands that are called perfect and clean throughout the film. He is, therefore, hiding his murder behind lies, as he is hiding grossness behind his clean hands. At the contrary, Martin who has been analysed by many as a God-like figure due to his apparent supernatural powers, the fact that Anna kisses his feet and that he wants to right a moral issue, also appears like a strange individual, poorly likeable as does Kim. The final scene could, therefore, be showing an opposition of values. Steve and Anna still seem clean from the outside, they are not eating in the restaurant, but Steve appears regretful of his past. They are still gross on the inside. At the contrary, both Kim and Martin are eating. Kim is seen in a long-duration shot pouring ketchup on her fries. This parallel with blood and the way they both eat looking at each other suggests a bond between them, potentially a sexual tension, but most of all an understanding of a different set of values.

Finally, The Favourite tells the story of Abigail and Sarah fighting for the love of Queen Anne, one in order to have social privileges, the other both for a certain political power and her actual love for Anne. The film ends with Sarah, Anne’s true love banished and Abigail who took her place rubbing the feet of Anne. Once again, the film could have ended earlier when Abigail won over Sarah or when Sarah learned that she was banished but the film goes on to show us a scene in which Abigail rubs Anne’s feet and her face becomes superimposed with Anne’s face and her rabbits who symbolised all the children that she has lost in her life. This scene is especially powerful as it shows us, in its ambiguity, all the despair of the characters. Anne during the film explains that each rabbit is a child she lost but that having them can never fill the void they left. In this sense, they are the symbol of having something extremely lesser than what you wanted and both Anne and Abigail by the end of the film are in that position. Anne lost Sarah and Abigail is not able to take her place and Abigail wanted her freedom, but she does not have it as she remains Anne’s servant and sexual object.

In all his films, Yorgos Lanthimos leaves us with the most memorable endings which impact the whole film, our comprehension or interpretation of it and truly expresses the feelings of the characters. Often, it is also the most dissatisfying endings as they do not offer us the sense of closure that we like so much but that is why they are so powerful.

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