Eccentric Greek auteur, Yorgos Lanthimos, brings his dark and distinctive style to a much wider audience with his English-language debut, The Lobster. Happily though, more money and an incredible array of stars hasn’t seen Lanthimos compromise an inch in this beautiful, pitch black oddity.
Set in a near future, which is minimalist and classicist in form- the world itself is completely recognisable to the audience- it is the rules of society that have been contorted and changed in The Lobster. David (Colin Farrell, at his deadpan best) finds himself alone after his wife leaves him for another man and, in line with the rules of society, he is forced to move into a hotel where he has 45 days to find a new partner. The catch is- in the one genuine departure into pure science fiction- if he doesn’t find a partner within this time, David will be turned into an animal of his choice- the eponymous lobster.
So David begins his life at the hotel accompanied by his dog, Bob, who we learn is actually his brother, having been transformed after his own ill-fated stay at the hotel. While at the hotel David’s time is regularly interrupted by ‘hunts’, during which the residents of the hotel are armed with tranquilizer guns, and ferried out to the surrounding woods in a mini-bus to hunt down and capture escaped singletons like some kind of bizarre activity weekend.
The devil is really in the detail of Lanthimos’ film- where absurd acts, taken in the context of the world of the film, make perfect sense. For example, another resident of the hotel (played by John C. Reilly) is punished for masturbating by having his hand forcibly held in a hot toaster. The hotel acts as a kind of ministry of propaganda for the cult of the couple, with the hotel staff performing demonstrations on the superiority of two over one. Upon arrival David has one hand cuffed behind his back to remind him that it is much harder to do things with one hand rather than two. There is a real perversity and darkness to the film’s humour at times, all perfectly realised though in the twisted logic of The Lobster’s world.
The second half of the film concentrates on the activities of the ‘loners’ who live in the woods and follow an equally prohibitive and unnatural code of behaviour. In this section the film introduces the characters of Lea Seydoux and Rachel Weisz, whom David begins to develop an illicit relationship with.
The originality of Lanthimos’ film is to be praised, but it is something that also might alienate some viewers. Whatever side you come out on, there is no denying that Lanthimos serves up some arresting images. The opening long take of a women abandoning her car at the roadside and shooting a horse dead- a bizarre twist on the jilted lover trope- abruptly jars the audience into the film. Lanthimos proves himself equally adept with the silly and surreal- there is a wonderful shot of the ‘loners’ in the woods enjoying an en masse silent disco.
But much more affecting than these two examples, there is a real gothic beauty to the film, which often holds us at a distance and visually manages to encapsulate the loneliness of the film’s characters. One of the film’s standout moments comes as Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz listen to a song through shared headphones in the woods. They lapse into each other’s arms as the audience looks on from a distance- indeed, the song ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ is only just audible to us, as we hear it muffled through the headphones. We are outside this moment and that is what makes it so poignant.
It’s hard to summarize a film as unique as The Lobster. Describing it as an Animal Farm-style allegory for love that’s a mixture of Logan’s Run and 1984 with an austerity, black humour and formal beauty that makes you think it might have been directed by Stanley Kubrick, Roy Andersson and Wes Anderson (on anti-depressants) still really fails to do it justice. There’s a distinct possibility that audiences will emerge from the cinema afterwards believing what they have just witnessed was either genius or madness in equal measure – or that anyone who sees The Lobster will no longer be able to distinguish between the two. A consequence that is befitting for a film as brilliant, biting and anarchic as this one. Richard Davis
The Lobster is currently on release at the QFT, Belfast and the IFI, Dublin.