DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Thimios Bakatakis • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Jacqueline Abrahams • CAST: Colin Farrell, Léa Seydoux, Rachel Weisz
Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster can be perceived to be any number of things – surreal comedy, dystopian sci-fi, romance, drama, prison thriller – and all these genres it may be, but these are just the surface stylings of a director who has given one of the sharpest relationship satires in recent years. It’s like an Owen Wilson rom-com, doused in David Lynch’s bitter coffee and peppered with British absurdist humour. The movie is silly and ridiculous, but at times can demonstrate subtle poignancy and moments of graphic violence. It’s a postmodern dark comedy, where the world has fallen under a sort of Tinder fascism. It’s as if the dating app got sponsored by Hugo Boss and started whistling Wagner, wingmen becoming spies, and mothers Gestapo. A world where being single is a crime and if your relationship is on the rocks, you’re sentenced to be a parent. This is the world that Lanthimos has created for us and it’s a riot.
It takes a while for The Lobster to break out of its shell because it’s so different from conventional relationship comedies; heck, it’s even off the wall for most offbeat comedies. You start to wonder if it is trying too hard, using its quirkiness as compensation for humour, but soon you succumb to Lanthimos’ charm and it’s hard to deny his sheer dedication to his vision. He goes all the way with it unapologetically and that in itself becomes admirable.
The Lobster stars Colin Farrell as David, the only character given a Christian name as the rest of the cast are merely named after their job role or physical attribute. The film is narrated by Rachel Weisz, who doesn’t actually appear in the story until well into the second act. David is a tubby shell of a man with a thick moustache that suits his introvert personality. His wife has left him for another man, and in the world of The Lobster this now disqualifies David from living in general society and he is relocated to a hotel outside the city.
At the hotel he has 45 days to find a partner or he will be downgraded to another species of his choice. He chooses a lobster, which is an excellent choice according to the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman), who explains most singletons choose dogs, hence why dogs are so common. The hotel boasts an array of eccentric characters – Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen) and Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) – all of which add to the bizarre.
Their activities include swimming, dancing, seminars and hunting the Loners in the woods. The Loners are people, who refuse to conform to society’s relationship pressures. They are single fundamentalists, who are planning a revolt. Both the Loners in the forest and the guests/inmates of the hotel must abide to a strict set of rules. In the Loner tribe one must not kiss or they shall have their lips cut off. In fact they don’t allow any fraternising at all, only a healthy diet of techno music and masturbation. Reminds me of college… hell it reminds me of last weekend. The hotel on the other hand forbids masturbation, which the Lisping Man finds out in a sadistic way involving a toaster.
There’s also forms of torture carried out every morning for the male inmates. Torture by grind. The maids grind up against the men to the moment right before they make spectacles of themselves and then stop. This is obviously why so many find it difficult to get around rule no.1. There are scenes of disturbing violence involving toasters, suicides and nosebleeds that are more effective than some horror movies. The film’s surreal humour delivered in deadpan dialogue might go over some people’s heads, especially when blended with the moments of extreme violence. However, if you’re a fan of British absurd comedy such as Brass Eye or Look Around You, then you’ll feel right at home.
Although, it isn’t necessarily the abstract that gets the biggest laughs. The biting satire and attention to detail is what rates high on the LOL scale. The focus of a relationship built on lies marks the funniest moments in The Lobster. Like when the Limping Man, out of sheer desperation, smashes his face off hard objects so it appears he has more in common with the Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden). Or when David must pretend to be a despicable and cynical human being in order to match up with the Heartless Woman. The surreal and extreme circumstances reflect a certain breed of people in our society. It illustrates insecurity among us, who pretend to be someone we’re not in order to escape loneliness.
When David is caught for his deceptions he escapes the hotel and joins the Loners. This is where we finally meet our narrator, the Shortsighted Woman, who David becomes extremely fond of. During their routine drills, preparing for the revolt, Shortsighted Woman and David genuinely fall in love, naturally in a loveless community. They must reserve their feelings or they could face a worse fate than slashed lips. The Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) is a French Resistance type commander, who keeps a close eye on the secret couple. David and Shortsighted woman disguise their emotions through a communication of complex sign language. They camouflage themselves against the damp bark of the forest trees, as more and more animals pass them by as if they were in the Garden of Eden.
The Loners sometimes take trips to the city. Actually, they’re more like secret missions as they go undercover as couples to blend in with society. These scenes are reminiscent of science fiction such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Soylent Green. Between moments of outlandish humour, disturbing violence and Big Brother-style paranoia, The Lobster still finds time for occasional tenderness between David and Shortsighted Woman, as their battle against everyone makes their love enduring.
It is quite a miracle Lanthimos got this film to work. Not because of how leftfield it is, but because of the amount of international input that excels in it. A Greek director, British, Irish, American and Dutch producers, shot in Ireland and with a plateau of multinational actors. The question isn’t really how did a film like this get made, but rather how could a film like this be so funny.
Going into The Lobster, I was slightly pessimistic and, truth be told, it took some time for me to warm up to it. Not that I didn’t get it, but my confidence in Colin Farrell was shaky at best. In my experience, he can be hit or miss with comedy, unless he has a strong writer behind him. Admittedly, not knowing much anything about Yorgos Lanthimos only served to heighten my suspicions. But I fell victim to its charm, and although it demands a second viewing, The Lobster will remain one of the most interesting movies of the year and originally fresh comedy in years.
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Lobster is released 16th October 2015