Fantastic Fest 2015: Yorgos Lanthimos' Strange, Beautiful 'The Lobster'
by Jeremy Kirk
September 27, 2015
There are a lot of avenues a filmmaker can take when discussing the emotions that drive us humans as well as the contradictory nature between love and relationships. With The Lobster, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos creates a strange, cynical look at these contradictions with enough sardonic wit to consider it a satire. The filmmaker who hit with the equally strange comedy, Dogtooth, returns to bring yet another dry and somewhat surreal comedy that may just have you cringing in your seat as much as it has you rolling. With a stellar cast and Lanthimos' unapologetic vision, The Lobster is a unique experience that will question your faith in love as much as enhance it.
Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou present here a dystopian world, not so much a vision of our future but another reality altogether. In this world finding a soulmate seems to be chief among the hierarchy of needs. It's so important, in fact, that people who haven't found their one, true love are sent to a secluded resort. Here they are given 45 days to find a suitable partner among the other residents. If they are unable to do so, they are promptly transformed into an animal of their choosing and sent out into the world to roam.
Enter David (Colin Farrell), a sheepish, melancholic individual who is unlucky in love and who comes to The Hotel with his brother – who has previously been turned into a dog – to find true love. David has decided if he can't find love he'd rather be a lobster, because of their long lifespan and his love for the sea. He meets the other, strange residents of The Hotel, and even makes a few friends (Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly). He abides by the strict rules set down for him. He partakes in the nightly hunts when the Hotel residents take tranquilizer guns and chase down the single Loners who inhabit The Woods surrounding The Hotel. Maybe, if he can't find love at The Hotel, The Woods will provide a suitable mate.
As with his previous works, Dogtooth and Alps, Lanthimos creates a world driven by its rules. Even if those rules don't make sense as they are presented, it isn't difficult to recognize how they fit the meaning of our own world. Lanthimos crafts his world, characters, and story with a biting, satirical voice, one that forces us to look at our own institutions and forced, social interactions. He doesn't so much destroy those views as make it painfully obvious that we must destroy them ourselves.
Lanthimos and Filippou's screenplay, irreverent and sharp as it is, slows way down once David decides he's had enough of The Hotel and escapes to The Woods to live with the rebellious singles there. The Lobster slows to a crawl at this point, a few of the screenplay's dangling threads playing out without resolution. There's a good 10 to 15 minutes of The Lobster that could have been dropped in editing, likely included due to the strength of the actors involved.
Farrell, Whishaw, and Reilly carry that same, monotone attitude and speed found throughout the rest of the film. Farrell, giving one of his most subdued and accomplished performances to date, is the perfect choice for David. He's clearly handsome despite his bushy mustache and wire-rim glasses, but it serves Lanthimos' point of the attitude towards love one has that can either find them the love of their life or keep them walking through The Woods alone forever. Mention must also be made of Rachel Weisz's strong performance as the beautiful Loner David meets in those Woods. Weisz has a way of letting sadness and sturdiness come through in equal measures, and her performance here doesn't disappoint in any way.
Despite the minor edits the film could have made for the sake of running time – and for the sake of arriving at Lanthimos' cynical and discomforting finale – The Lobster remains a fascinating and sometimes hilarious look at the connections we make and the choices that lead to those connections. As strange as the eponymous creature itself, the film slowly immerses the viewer into this odd world that may be closer to our own than we initially realize. It's certainly enough to make the filmmaker's voice worth listening to.
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