A film review by Craig J. Koban August 6, 2016

RANK:  #18

THE LOBSTER jjj
½

2016, R, 118 mins.

 

Colin Farrell as David  /  Rachel Weisz as Short Sighted Woman  /  Léa Seydoux as Loner Leader  /  John C. Reilly as Lisping Man  /  Ben Whishaw as The Limping Man  /  Olivia Colman as Hotel Manager

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos  /  Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou

THE LOBSTER is like a weird and intoxicatingly macabre cocktail of the stylistic eccentricities of a Wes Anderson and the morbid cautionary tales of dystopia from George Orwell.  

It’s from 43-year-old Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, making his English language debut here, and the film received raves when it premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, ultimately winning the Jury Prize.  Having finally receiving a North America release, I rather unceremoniously stumbled upon it on VOD and by the time the end credits rolled by I realized that I witnessed both an uproariously bizarre social satire and a hauntingly bleak parable about human relationship woes.  It’s also a work with thick and dense absurdist strokes and a deeply peculiar premise, but the manner that Lanthimos fully embraces and harnesses THE LOBSTER’s incomparable brand of strangeness is what makes it a wholly audacious original.

And this film’s premise…wow.  It’s a humdinger that requires you to fully submit to it.  The film revolves around David (in one of his most focused and nuanced performances in years by Colin Farrell) as a newly single man that resides in a depressingly bleak society that outlaws…single people.  After the love of his life for the past 12 years dumped him, David checks himself into a special hotel – known as “The Hotel” – that caters specifically to people with his “affliction.”  His stay is a precise 45 days.  Why 45?  Because – as the hotel manager matter-of-factly explains to him at one point – if David does not find love and companionship with another person during his 45 day stay…he will be transformed into an animal.  This is no joke.  When asked of his animal of choice, David very quickly chooses a lobster, mostly because it resides in the sea (he likes the water) and for its tough exterior and long life span.  Oh, David also brought along a dog to the hotel, who was once his brother who did have a stint at the hotel that didn’t end particularly…well. 

 

 

It’s very apparent very soon that the Hotel is no...ordinary hotel.  It has a very strict series of rules and regulations regarding etiquette and conduct.  For example, masturbation is completely forbidding at the risk of being given a very harsh penalty to the hand used for said act (as displayed in one particularly shocking moment).  Hotel maids do provide mandatory stimulation, so there’s that.  Hotel guest are also required to attend social activities, like dances, that couldn’t be anymore stilted and awkward for all involved.  Propaganda is required viewing and reading material by all as well.  Lastly, if you want to find a lifemate and find one quickly while there then you must secure one with similar distinguishing characteristics.  For example, if you have either a lisp or limp then you must try to score with another person with a respective lisp or limp. 

The 45 day stay can be extended for all, that is if they participate in frequent hunting expeditions in the woods and successfully shoot and tranquilize “loners” (single people), and each hit scores the shooter one extra day at the Hotel.  David tries to make the most of his very strict and moderated Hotel stay and even tries to befriend a couple of other men (played by John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw), but it becomes really clear to him that the Hotel is not really what it’s cracked up to be.  He stages a revolt and escapes it, fleeing into the loner-filled forests where he hooks up with a short-sighted loner (Rachel Weisz), and sparks begin to fly between the pair.  Unfortunately, David learns that there are a whole other set of rules and regulations for loners in the forest, which only means that his existentialist dilemma is getting more complicated and dreary by the day. 

Masterful works of satire go for the jugular with a never-look-back tenacity, and THE LOBSTER is ostensibly and confidently in this category.  The film is not plot driven, per se, seeing as it's more of an ethereal mood piece that’s about establishing an atmosphere and tone of (rather conflictingly) hysterical dread.  The message and themes that Lanthimos explores are both abstractly rendered, but nevertheless universally understood and acknowledged.   THE LOBSTER speaks towards the pains and trials and tribulations of how we form intimate ties with each other and the often pain-inducing manner that we desperately cling to those we desire to be with.  It also comments on the unfairly chastised societal platitude that solitude equals something unfit and undesirable, and considering the volatile nature of online correspondence these days, the truths that this film speaks towards are monumental.  Ultimately, THE LOBSTER’s Hotel is a kind of damning purgatory that has rigidly controlled and systemic methods to make the undesirables of the world more desirable…or else.  The film fully embodies the notion that people pathetically cling to damaging systems to be relevant and worthy in society.  Despite its out-there premise, THE LOBSTER is fundamentally accurate about dating mores and our collective fear of dying alone. 

Yet, for all of the film’s wanton weirdness, it does tell a rather touching – if not frighteningly tragic – love story between Farrell’s and Weisz’ characters.  Farrell as an actor has somewhat fallen off of the mainstream radar as of late, but he proves here in THE LOBSTER – when given just the right material – how assured and poised he is as a dependably sturdy actor.  His performance as David requires him to dial himself into a very sedate human being whose deadpan delivery almost suggests a zombified state.  Oddly enough, Farrell is marvelously droll in the role that, quite frankly, is rather humorless on paper, which stems mostly out of the manner that he sells what a wholeheartedly broken down and forced-into-obedience man he has become.  He’s matched wonderfully with Weisz, who has a very tricky dual role as David’s would-be soulmate and narrator of the film.  She comments on the comings and goings of the film’s overall narrative much like David speaks – with a zoned-out monotone inflection that makes her sound like a naïve child with a plain-spoken manner that's tying to make sense of the madness that cascades over this film.  

This takes me to my one criticism of THE LOBSTER: It never really generates as much inherent perverse interest in the third act scenes between David, the narrator, and the other loners in the forest as much as it did with all of the ones involving the pitiful souls trapped within the Hotel.  If anything, you can sense that Lanthimos is sort of running out of ideas as the film marches towards an ending that, to his credit, builds towards one of the most hauntingly ambiguous conclusions that I’ve seen in a film in an awfully long time (it has the superficial façade of a happily-ever­after finale while never really adhering to it).  THE LOBSTER is also a meticulously constructed film on a level of production design; every miniscule aesthetic aspect here – down to the set decorations, camera movies, performances and even musical score – is craftily engineered with a surgical precision.  I can certainly understand how some people may find the overall approach here to be cold hearted and detached, but there’s no denying the twisted ambition of Lanthimos in delivering a surrealistic parable that’s boldly original.  In a cinematic age dominated by remakes, reboots, and regurgitated and overused conventions and formulas, THE LOBSTER is a monumentally rare breed of innovative filmmaking. 

 

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