The Lobster - 2014
Director(s): Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s): Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Cinematography by: Thimios Bakatakis
Editor(s): Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Cast: Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Angeliki Papoulia, Ben Whishaw, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman and Michael Smiley
Yorgos Lanthimos has become somewhat of a household name thanks to his incredible work on last year's critically acclaimed period piece, The Favourite. This film earned him nominations for Best Director and Best Picture and boasted a career-defining performance from Olivia Colman, who took home the Best Actress award. However, Yorgos has been crafting unique films since the early 2000s (Dogtooth - Alps) and found success in the States with his first English-language film, The Lobster. A black-comedy that never lets the audience believe for a second that anything presented is nothing short of serious, and sometimes deadly for the characters, making it an instant cult classic in my eyes. Let's talk about it.
The story takes place in an alternate reality of Earth. Here the government expects its citizens to be in a committed relationship, based on a shared trait (nearsightedness, bloody nose or lack of human emotion). Any person that is single, via death or a breakup, has forty-five days to find a new partner or they will be turned into the animal of their choosing. David (Farrell), after being dumped, voluntarily checks in to the hotel that handles the courtship and eventual animal conversion in the case of failure to find a partner. His stay doesn't go as planned, and he ends up joining a group of rebels that want to be alone and not be forced into a relationship.
Yorgos co-wrote the script with his writing partner Efthymis Filippou, and they once again craft a world where everything you see and hear feels alien despite it being rooted in the real world. The characters' line delivery, tone, and manner of interacting with one another are trademarks that have become deeply tied to Yorgos' style, but when you are faced with it for the first time, it takes a few scenes for your brain to adjust. It is satire, but it never winks at the camera, and it never lets the audience in on the joke. Everything is treated so seriously, and that is the source of all the laughs. We don't need to know all the rules, but since the characters do, and they abide by them to rigidly we buy into the world; of course, if you are single you get turned into an animal, of course, you cannot be with someone if the both of you don't have a limp. And of course, the hotel will put your hand in a toaster if you are caught masturbating. Why not?
I also love how this film lampoons what society deems as acceptable or necessary; the thought of "something is wrong if you are single." This need for companionship is wired in us, and Yorgos is just mocking it by making it a governmental decree. Society seeks systems, rules, and laws for a sense of safety and predictability to their daily lives. Even if it means they have to hunt for loners in the woods for extra days in the hotel. On the flip side, the film also mocks those who rebel against the system, with the group of loners that do not want to be held to a relationship because the government is forcing them to be in one. In their rebellion, they formed their society in the woods around the hotel, and they follow a totalitarian leader that decrees rules and punishes those who break them, essentially living inside the same system like the one they "rebelled" against.
Quick note: the film is at its strongest when confined to the hotel, as the woods and the exterior shots aren’t as compelling and tight as the absurdity presented in the first half. It doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the film, but you do wish the second half was as strong as the first.
Colin Farrel delivers my second favorite performance of his career (#1 In Bruges), as he completely sheds his "bad boy" persona that made him a star in the early 2000s. His submissive, and monotone persona goes with his Great Clips haircut and pudgy body, as he embodies the everyday man that struggles with life. While Rachel Weisz doesn't appear on screen till the second half, she's tasked with narrating the film, and her monotone voice, as if she is tired of telling the story, sets the tone for the audience. The entire cast embraces this world and craft-fully fleshed out characters, with mannerisms and quirks that add depth to what could've been a throwaway supporting role. From John C. Reilly’s kindly man with a lisp to Angeliki Papoulia’s emotionless psychopath, all bring something new to flesh-out the world and Farrell's character.
The Lobster is a prime example of how a voice as unique as Yorgos is necessary to inject life into movies. The comedy genre has become somewhat stale and over-reliant on improvisation and yelling as a source for laughs, Yorgos’ black comedy presents smartly written scenarios that make the audiences laugh due to the absurdity of the world and the deadpan performances of the entire cast. The ending leaves you waiting for a fairy tale solution as we have become so accustomed to, but Yorgos leaves it up to the audience to decide where the character will end up.
The Lobster is Glass Half Full.
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