Empty Gestures: Mimesis and Subjection in the Cinema of Yorgos Lanthimos

Carlo Comanducci

Abstract


It is no overstatement to say that gesture defines the universe of Yorgos Lanthimos’s cinema. Entire sequences in his films portray the characters as they perform complex and arbitrary gestures, or as they enact, through a series of orchestrated movements, a script they have been hired to perform in order to flesh out somebody else’s fantasies or to impersonate someone else’s lost loved one. Language itself is often reduced to gesture – to a superficial, obsessive and empty performance, a movement not only deprived of meaning but of emotion as well. Automatism and repetition further mark this strange universe, calling into question the idea of gesture as something either purely aesthetic or, on the other hand, intrinsically liberating, and affirming instead its entanglement with power and subjection. Characters seem to go through the motions of life, love, and mourning, instead of actually living or giving voice to their feelings. In this sense, their gestures often appear to be not mimetic but automatic, and not only devoid of finality and meaning, but also of intention: not only do the characters seem to touch just to touch, speak just to speak, and move just to move, without any immediate purpose, but, often enough, they touch only because they have been compelled to touch, speak because they have been ordered to speak, and move not through their own will but through their subjection to the will of another. These gestures are not expressive, then, but are rather performed as a bare act of submission. Reading Lanthimos’s work through Giorgio Agamben’s theory of gesture, this article discusses the performative character of agency that corresponds to pure gesture.



Keywords


Giorgio Agamben; Yorgos Lanthimos; Athina Rachel Tsangari; Guy Debord; Alpeis; Kinetta; gesture; mediality; mimesis; performativity; ethics; action; subject; subjectivity; language; subjection; alienation; mime; commedia dell’arte

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2017.0005.56



Apparatus. ISSN 2365-7758