Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou.
Starring: Colin Farrell (David), Rachel Weisz (Short Sighted Woman), Ben Whishaw (The Limping Man), Léa Seydoux (Loner Leader), John C. Reilly (Lisping Man), Olivia Colman (Hotel Manager), Angeliki Papoulia (Heartless Woman), Jessica Barden (Nosebleed Woman), Ashley Jensen (Biscuit Woman), Ariane Labed (The Maid), Garry Mountaine (Hotel Manager's Partner), Laoise Murphy (New Daughter), EmmaEdel O'Shea (Nosebleed Woman's Best Friend).
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ breakthrough film Dogtooth (2009) was a surreal, dark, twisted masterwork about a screwed up family in which the overprotective parents will not allow their children outside their home, and have completely warped their worldview. His follow-up film, Alps (2011) was less successful – but it was just as strange and surreal, in its story of a group of people who start a business where they impersonate the recently deceased to help those left behind deal with their loss. Both films earned comparison to the work of master filmmaker. With his new film, The Lobster, Lanthimos has raised the stakes yet again – and made one of the most wonderfully weird films you will likely ever see – and the first one that really does bring the best work of Bunuel to mind – as this time, Lanthimos embraces the comic absurdity of his setup more than ever before, and then pushes beyond those laughes to something that is thought provoking, and surprisingly, quite moving as well.
The film stars Colin Farrell as David – a architect whose wife has just left him. He lives in some sort of near future, almost dystopia, where everyone is required to be coupled up with someone who they share something, usually something superficial, in common with. As David is no longer coupled up, he has to head to “the hotel” where he will spend 45 days trying to meet his perfect mate. If he doesn’t find that mate by the end of those 45 days, he will be turned into the animal of his choice.
The first half of the film is a deadpan comic masterwork, as it depicts a society in which there are no half measures allowed – whether it’s with being bi-sexual or shoe-size – or just liking to be alone. Lanthimos wonderfully mocks society’s obsession with marriage and the nuclear family, as it forces these people into relationships with the wrong people, because even that is better than being alone. The people at the hotel show little to no emotion, but are almost all miserable. Farrell finds the perfect note for David in these scenes – and there is wonderfully supporting work by Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly as his two buddies, who are even more lost than he is, the wonderful Ashley Jensen as the saddest character in the film, Lanthimos regular Angeliki Papoulia as “the heartless woman” – who really lives up to her name, and Olivia Colman, hilarious, as the hotel manager. All of the characters in the film – except for David – are named just after their most defining characteristic – society’s way of boiling people down even more than normal. This first half is hilarious in the way Lanthimos pokes at society’s relationship obsession. It’s also a meticulously crafted film – with expert production design and framing. There’s a little bit of Wes Anderson in this first half alongside Bunuel – and it’s brilliant.
The second of the film shifts, and while I don’t think it’s as funny or as tightly focused as the first half it does expand the film’s overall meaning. David will eventually leave the hotel and end up with the loners in the woods. As ridiculously rigid as society as a whole is as forcing people into coupledom, the loners are as rigid about enforcing solitude being alone – the punishment for small infractions can be severe. The film then is not just about modern society’s obsession with coupling off, but also about fundamentalism as a whole – anybody with rigidly held beliefs that forces those beliefs onto others. Even more impressive in that second half though is that the film manages to actually tell a quietly moving love story – as David meets and falls for the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) – who also acts as the film’s narrator. There is a danger when you make a comedy this deadpan that it becomes merely a intellectual exercise – something that I do think Alps, and to a lesser extent, Dogtooth fell into. Farrell does a wonderful here. In the past, he has been used by directors like Michael Mann (Miami Vice) and Terrence Malick (The New World), for his physical presence. There is some of that here as well – the way he stiffly moves in the first part of the movie, than gradually loosens up. While his deadpan delivery remains a constant throughout – it also softens as it moves along, as he develops more emotions.
The Lobster is a very strange movie – and also the rare modern movie I would describe as a true original. Lanthimos clearly is inspired by Luis Bunuel – but his films are not mere copies of that master. He’s still early in his career – but he has developed into one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working right now.