Quite terrific. Not a masterpiece because it has a few nagging loose pieces, but it is so original in content and tone that it elevates above even the more gutsy art house entries. The Lobster is the kind of a film that will not only be remembered next week, but next year, and the year after that. Its’ provocative type of science-fiction and black comedy satire takes place not in a future world, I believe, but in an alternative version of our own current time had a world taken a crazy trajectory. In a premise that recalls the outlandish sci-fi fantasies that were made often in the 1970’s, it is outlawed to be outside of a relationship in this world. If you are single after forty-five days, you are to be turned into the animal of your choice. I saw some stray animals throughout the film, none as beautiful as the peacock roaming in the background of one shot. Our protagonist, in case he fails to find a match, wants to be turned into a lobster.
That would be David, played by Colin Farrell, who finds himself checked into a hotel that houses all newly single persons of his region. He answers a series of very intrusive questions, then another series in his room once greeted by the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman, more officious than sympathetic), and at his first dinner meets two other singles, a lisper (John C. Reilly) and a limper (Ben Whishaw) who are required to meet a woman with the same impairments.
At an arranged dance – an opportune time to meet a mate or flirt – both men and women survey their choices discreetly and humorously look away quickly, as if to not make themselves too readily available. In these moments, I sensed the men don’t want to brandish their desperation by making too early a move while the women are apt to be overly choosy. Of course, there will be a woman or two we meet that are as overly desperate to throw themselves unto a man because a lack of physical appeal.
We’ve already had a strange but absolutely original introduction to the film, and yet the film unfailingly continues to tap weirder notes. There is a hunting scene where the singles go to the forest to track down “loners” and perhaps add an extra day onto their countdown clock. There is a scene where Farrell says the morning routine is “awful,” referring to how the hotel maid is required to masturbate him without letting him reach orgasm in order to (uh, is this right?) make sure everything is still working correctly? It’s all part of the routine.
Farrell is playing a professional middle aged man, cautious and suppressed by society’s rules – and so we wait for him to shed this sourpuss image and for a little Farrell charisma to come shining through. He is almost good-looking, except for his potbelly and the frown he wears on his face. Lose the frown, he could easily make a woman forget about his potbelly and average hair. This is a complex performance by Farrell played with deliberate rigidness, and it maybe is the best he’s ever given in film, of a man who isn’t really there.
But he does care to do what it takes to live.
Something of an allegorical brain-teaser, “The Lobster” is a densely unfolding narrative where we use each new unveiling piece of information to better understand this world – it keeps us watching diligently that way. If this was a futuristic world we would see techno-gadgets, but there are none to speak of except for the Transformation Room. This is psychological – and sociological science-fiction – and its’ a purpose is to portray a world gone mad. You can’t rush love, which is something this society doesn’t understand, and so couples pair up that share no cultivating personal connection. The ones that can’t the forty-five day deadline are not just interminable social rejects but terminal ones. They have no survival savvy.
There is not a single scene in this entire taut film that fails to portray a new facet of this bizarre world or convey a spikey new piece of information. That’s even true when the film switches gears as it moves to the forest where we meet a resistance leader played by Lea Seydoux (“Spectre”), so fascist in her own ideals that she will maim one of her followers if they deviate from her rules, presides over a band of loners. Rachel Weisz plays one of the loners, who exceptionally is more curious than the others to flirt with alternate life choices. Weisz, leading up to her first appearance, has narrated the film up until this point, with voice-over that has been done in a deliberately tone-deaf way. It is part of her unrefined character, and a tip-off that something’s a little mentally haywire with her too. But her character grabs you because she’s at least an independent thinker in this straightjacketed society.
I couldn’t help wonder though if these characters would be happier back at the hotel as a junction before re-entering society than they are at the forest, and wish at least one of the characters had questioned this, too. I also never really felt that these forest people were that removed from society – they seem to have no problem going back into the city without dodging any checkpoints. For a totalitarian society, security and patrol figures seem to be kind of, well, lax. Yet “The Lobster” has already given us quite another slant on its satirical message: that with everybody we meet, their worst enemy isn’t so much the State they live under but the enemy is him and herself, and how unrealized they are within. The human spirit is squashed well before adulthood. This film can’t get me to stop wondering about it.
Note: The film’s director is Yorgos Lanthimos who is famous previously for the controversial button-pusher “Dogtooth,” which I had an unusual experience with. I hated it when I saw it. It’s about a father with two adult daughters and an adult son who have been deliberately sheltered with no understanding of the outside world, and so they have been conditioned to accept abusive rule over themselves. Quite an upsetting film actually but months later, however, something gnawed at me and I think I realized then I saw an interesting film. I have yet to re-watch the film, but I am intrigued to now give it a second try. With that said, “The Lobster” is an easier to digest film.
118 Minutes. Rated R. Internationally co-produced by companies from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Greece, France and the Netherlands but filmed entirely in English.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / CEREBRAL SCI-FI / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Rollerball” (1975); “Logan’s Run” (1976); “Dogtooth” (2010, Greece); “Her” (2013).