The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
The Lobster is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s fifth theatrical feature. Prior to this, perhaps his best known work was his third film, Dogtooth, in 2009, which won the “Un Certain Regard” prize – an award given to bold, visionary work – at the Cannes Film Festival that year. This new film won the Jury Prize at that same festival last year, which is effectively third place, after the top two awards, the Palme d’Or and the Grand Prize. The Lobster is Lanthimos’s first English-language work, and follows his move to London to pursue greater creative opportunities and funding. If you pay attention to the opening credits, you will see that, in spite of this relocation, this latest effort still required many different funders. And so goes the world of European cinema, although American indie cinema is not always that different.
The movie is filmed in Ireland, on the Southwest coast, mostly in the Parknasilla Hotel and Resort and environs. Among others, it stars Colin Farrell (In Bruges) – who gained 40 pounds for the part – Rachel Weisz (Youth), John C. Reilly (Guardians of the Galaxy), Ben Whishaw (In the Heart of the Sea), Léa Seydoux (Blue Is the Warmest Color), Ariane Labed (Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey, and the director’s wife, as the hotel maid), and Angeliki Papoulia, who played the eldest daughter in Dogtooth. As in that film, the tone is bone-dry deadpan, mixing dark humor with deadly serious topics, and sometimes shocking the audience with sudden cuts to images of striking violence.
Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou, with whom he also wrote Dogtooth and his follow-up, Alps – and Filippou also co-wrote Chevalier, another Greek film which played at this year’s Maryland Film Festival – take on many issues of great relevance to contemporary life, but do so in a style and manner that distances us from immediately direct comparisons, much as does the best science fiction. The movie can be seen as either taking place in a futuristic dystopia or in a parallel-universe gone very wrong. Farrell plays David – one of only three named characters in the movie – a recent divorcé who is required, like all single people in this time and place, to go to a special hotel where he has 45 days to find a new life partner, after which, match unmade, he will be turned into an animal of his choosing (by which means he will ostensibly have another chance to find love). The human world is not for single people, not here.
The film offers metaphor upon metaphor on the nature of human relationships and the pressure that society places on people to find a partner. It’s also about the way in which we seem to look for people who share common interests through online dating sites. As in Dogtooth, Lanthimos creates a world in which people live by arcane rules and suffer awful punishments should they break those rules. Always, there is the human tendency toward bureaucracy and regimentation. Flee one group, and the next one in which you find yourself may have an even more bizarre set of proscribed behaviors in place. Such is the human condition.
The film may not be to everyone’s liking, especially since the somewhat light tone of the trailer, if you’ve seen it, only gives away half the story. That’s a good thing if you hate knowing the full plot ahead of time, but bad if you feel betrayed when the film switches gears halfway through. And it does. It’s all so carefully photographed, however – by the same cinematographer, Thimios Bakatakis, who shot Dogtooth – that you will always have intriguing images to look at, no matter your thoughts on the story. And though I am still, myself, making up my mind about how, exactly, I feel about this strange little tale, the fact is that I can’t stop thinking about it, and enjoyed it even more the second time I saw it. There appears to be brilliant method to Lanthimos’ quirky madness, and in a world filled with Marvel film after Marvel film, I say, “Hear! Hear!”