NYFF Review: Yorgos Lanthimos' Insanely Brilliant Film 'The Lobster'
by Alex Billington
September 27, 2015
This is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' best film yet. Maybe it's because it's his first film in English, but also because the film is an insanely ingenious indictment of modern romance and relationships told in an utterly fascinating way. The Lobster is a drama starring Colin Farrell set in a very odd sort of reality, one where those who are single and not in a relationship are turned into an animal after 45 days (if they don't find someone else in that time). The concept, which is fun to describe, is brilliantly executed by Yorgos Lanthimos and his ensemble of actors. It's the kind of film that if taken seriously, won't be liked, but as long as you don't forget to laugh at every little thing that they're poking fun at, it is so easy to caught up in this.
Lanthimos sets up the world in The Lobster with Colin Farrell playing David, who shows up to "The Hotel" where single people must report to when they become single. Here he meets a few odd friends, played by Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly, and other potential mates – many of them being dull characters. It's essentially a cinematic recreation of the pressures of society as replicated in a fictional society, one where the hotel in the middle of a forest represents where all the single, secluded, sad and lonely people go. When you go out into the world, and look around, everyone ends up as a couple. It's as if you have to be a couple to make it, and single people should always be looking for a partner. It's exciting seeing Lanthimos' cinematic metaphor of this feeling, and although it's odd and awkward at times, what he's getting at is quite amusing.
What I love about the film is that it plays with so many ideas of romance, so many of the silly things about it. Lanthimos is very keen in the way he bluntly examines all the goofiness and literally addresses it in dialogue, which is where most of the humor comes from (though not everyone will like this). It covers everything from the way we look for commonalities in a mate, whether they mean anything or not; to the way sexual teasing is mental stimulation for relationships; making fun of the way couples act like they're in love, and using children as a means to solve problems (by literally giving a couple a child to help them with any difficulties in their final two weeks before returning to the regular world); and showing how we act different when we're interested in someone and don't want anyone else to have them. There's so much more.
There have been some remarkably breathtaking films about modern romance recently - Spike Jonze's Her is one of my favorites, along with Alex Garland's Ex Machina. This year's other intriguing take on romance is Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson's stop-motion animated Anomalisa, which I reviewed out of Telluride. Lanthimos' The Lobster is the next film to make its mark in romance in this way, being such an original and one-of-a-kind creation that actually speaks volumes about love and relationships. Rather than tell another typical story of break-up and falling in love the hard way, do something different yet discuss romance, and that's what these filmmakers are doing here. Presenting such refreshingly original looks at how to navigate the world of romance without becoming overwhelmed by it, either. And maybe laughing at some of it, too.
I've struggled with Yorgos Lanthimos over the years. Admittedly, I hated his other two films Dogtooth and Alps and although I admire his creativity as a filmmaker, this is the first film of his I've actually enjoyed. I'm still unsure if I loved this so much because it was presented in English, or if it's because he connected with every thought I've had about relationships, or just because he's getting better and better with every film. Likely it's all of the above, and so much more. As much as the concept for The Lobster is great on paper, it's just as important to make this world come to life on the screen, and the way they build it up and present the characters works joyously and effectively. It is a bit long, but that's a minor issue in the scheme of things.
My reaction to this film was so strong, I couldn't help writing something about it (even though Jeremy also reviewed it out of Fantastic Fest). I'm also still a bit shocked that I loved a film from a filmmaker that I've despised up until this point. But that's why I love film festivals and exploring cinema, as you never know what you may come across. If you've appreciated the original approaches taken in Her and Ex Machina and films like that, likely you'll appreciate The Lobster just the same. It's the kind of film that, as fun as it is to watch, at the end it'll make you dwell on your life, your own choices, your own romances. A film that hits both notes, being immensely thoughtful and entertaining, is a rare thing and one worth taking out to dinner.
Alex's NYFF Rating: 9 out of 10
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