Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Wishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman
There are original films and there are original films. And then there is Yorgos Lanthimos’ provocative and unusual The Lobster. This Irish-UK-Greek-French-Dutch co-production (indicative of the difficulty in financing such a peculiar, uncommercial story) is the fifth film from the Oscar nominated Greek writer-director, and his first in English.
The story takes place in a hotel in an undisclosed European location (shot in the picturesque County Kerry of Southwest Ireland). Recently divorced, David (Colin Farrell) is checking in. But this is no ordinary hotel. It is a hotel for single people. The manager (Olivia Colman) outlines the nature of his stay. He has 45 days. If in that time he meets someone and they take a liking to one another, they are permitted to reenter society as a couple. If by the end of his 45 days he is still single he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing. David chooses a lobster. But coupling in this world isn’t so straight forward either. To form an acceptable pairing you need to have a key shared characteristic. These can be anything from good singing voices to short sightedness, from high school social studies to frequent nosebleeds. The hotel guests only opportunity to extend their stay comes each night when they go on a hunt in the nearby woods. They are hunting down the ‘loners’ who choose not to participate in the social structure and therefore live in hiding in the woods. For every loner a guest kills, they get an extra night in the hotel.
After a failed attempt at a relationship, and with time running out, David makes the decision to flee the hotel and join up with the loners in the woods only to discover that life in their society under its autocratic leader (Lea Seydoux), with its complete ban on romantic or sexual relations, is just as regimented and uncompromising as the pro-couple mainstream.
A very black comedy, but genuinely funny, The Lobster is a sharp piece of absurdist, social criticism which shines a light on an aspect of our culture which we take for granted. It is a dystopian commentary on our society’s bias towards coupling. We live in a world where coupling, marriage and procreation is seemingly the ultimate goal. Those who choose a different path are treated with suspicion. Those unsuccessful in attaining that goal by a certain point in their life can be treated with pity and unease. The world of the film takes this to the extreme. It is one in which single people are not tolerated. With police running checks people standing on their own in public, it is illegal to be single.
Likewise, The Lobster is a reflection on the superficiality of aspects of contemporary romance and courtship, where someone’s potential suitability as a partner is determined by characteristics listed on a profile page. So when David actually does find someone (Rachel Weisz) – because The Lobster is, ultimately, a highly unconventional love story – their mutual attraction is not enough. They must desperately try and find a common characteristic which gives them a socially acceptable reason to be together.
There are hints of Wes Anderson, albeit a less playful version, in Lanthimos’ stylistic approach to the material. The delivery of dialogue is deadpan and matter-of-fact. The impressive cast deliver largely muted and emotionless performances. This approach is matched with a sober formality to the visual presentation. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’ images exhibit a very intentional framing. The film is, in many ways, clinical. Yet despite this, The Lobster still manages to be genuinely affecting and moving.
Behind its high concept idea, The Lobster works because it is thematically relatable. While the scenario is extreme, the character’s struggles are honest and recognisable. It is a film about lonely people desperately searching for love in a world that makes them feel like outcasts because they haven’t yet been able to find it. At times confronting with a couple of abrupt intrusions of violence, Lanthimos’ surreal, dystopian fable is as fascinating as it is funny.
Review by Duncan McLean
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