Yorgos Lanthimos’ 12-minute short is surreal, raises existential questions, and has a hilarious scene involving a man and two women — it’s not what you think it is
There is a belief that movies are but a dream. Like in a dream, a movie has a set of distorted images that are put together in a logical sequence by the director. Now, these images may not necessarily have a narrative coherence, but the fact that it holds the story together; yields in telling a certain story, is what forms the screenplay. At least this is a theory that veteran screenwriter David Mamet subscribes to. You could argue that the Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ movies too are born out of a similar school of thought.
You cannot put pen to paper, trying to offer a rational explanation for the tropes and narrative choices that Lanthimos employs. His movies are not what the others describe them to be: “dark” and “unsettling”. They are more about “mood” and “feelings”. Lanthimos dreams on white paper and the results are as wildly satisfying as the first poster of The Lobster. His short film, Nimic, too, unfolds in what appears like a “dream” and has a pessimistic view of life.
It opens with a man (Matt Dillon) waking up from sleep to an orchestral piece of music running in the background, cut short by a voice. It produces a distorted effect for the good. He resumes his perfectly normal day with his perfectly normal family (with his perfectly normal wife and three kids), having a perfectly normal breakfast: boiled eggs. The score still plays in the background and segues into the next scene, where we see the unnamed man actually playing the cello for the track. And the voice that interrupts the music is by his conductor.
In under two minutes, Lathimos not alone establishes the somewhat distant-looking protagonist of Nimic, but also what keeps him aloof and, perhaps, away from his family. He finishes his perfectly normal recording at the studio and leaves for home. On the way back in a subway train, a chance encounter with a stranger, a woman, and a seemingly innocent question: “Do you have the time?” lands him into more pitfalls, when she returns the question. The train sequence reminded me of another short on existentialism and identity: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Anima.
The tonality of Nimic changes to a playful macabre-ish when the woman begins to follow him and his movements. In other words, she “mimics” every move of his. When he brings home flowers for his wife, she carries one too. When he says, “You’re my better half,” she completes the sentence along with him. The family, like the audience, is baffled at the split image of their “father/husband”.
Who is original and who is fake? Or does it matter at all? Let us say you remove a piece from jenga but it doesn’t affect the larger picture, then does it count as you have replaced one thing with another? To put it better, what if you woke up one day to realise your role as an individual has been replaced by another? It is like when the credits roll in Nimic, when you see a letter or two removed from everyone’s names — Yorg(o)s Lanthimos. The 12-minute short throws some interesting questions on the purpose of one’s existence with welcoming possibilities.
Could you think of any other exciting filmmaker, apart from Yorgos Lanthimos, the mastermind that brought us The Killing of a Sacred Deer and my favourite, The Lobster, who has constantly been experimenting with the narrative form? Of course, there is David Lynch but he isn’t “active” any more. Nimic reiterates why Lanthimos is the most original voice we have right now.
Nimic is currently streaming on Mubi India