You Can Change Your Nickname Only Twice: Identity in the Films of Yorgos Lanthimos

By  · Published on January 26th, 2017

How the director of Dogtooth and The Lobster (de)constructs identity.

My personal favorite surprise among this year’s Oscar nominations was Yorgos Lanthimos and Epthimis Filippou scoring in the Best Original Screenplay category for The Lobster, which I counted among my top five of 2016. The film, if you don’t know, takes place in a not-so-distant and slightly-dystopic future in which single adults are taken to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a romantic partner, or they are turned into an animal of their choosing. This and other issues of identity – specifically of wanting to identify as anyone other than who one actually is – are themes that run (with various levels of absurdity) through all of Lanthimos’ films, not just The Lobster but also Dogtooth, Alps, Kinetta, and his earlier work as well.

To Lanthimos identity is based on desire, desire for the things we want and the people we want to be and how the success or failure of achieving those desires shapes us into the people we actually are. In each of his films he has danced around this issue, sometimes more directly than others, sometimes more dramatically than others, but every time the result has been a murky resetting of a character’s identity, either by their own will or the will of the world forced upon them.

Lanthimos is, for my money, one of the most intriguing filmmakers to come out of the last decade, a stark fabulist who kinks the frame around his reality just enough that it appears foreign and familiar at the same time, removed from real life but somehow simultaneously interwoven into it as well. And with two features and a television show starring Kirsten Dunst on his docket for the next couple of years, Lanthimos’ stock as a storyteller is only on the rise.

Conor Bateman has made the following succinct and insightful video examining the issues of identity at play in the films of Lanthimos, and from its title – “You Can Change Your Nickname Only Twice” – you get a sense of the battle between will and directive upon which these issues hinge. Whether you know him or not, this video serves as the perfect point at which to start your Lanthimos obsession.

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