Getting wrapped up in the world of cinema, it’s easy to lose track or overlook certain filmmakers. Especially if the filmmaker comes from a land that is famous for its style of yogurt. I have never seen Dogtooth from Yorgos Lanthimos, but upon seeing his latest, The Lobster, I feel I need to visit the Oscar-nominated work and absorb all of its peculiarities and constructs.
The Lobster is Lanthimos’s English-language debut and it’s something that can’t be pigeonholed by one specific genre label. Which makes it the perfect opening night selection for Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the world. Darkly comic, introvertly represented, romantic and just plain weird, the film is a surrealist satire about relationships and the rules for finding the right companion.
Colin Farrell, packing on quite the spare tire, plays David, an architect who finds himself alone with the sudden departure of his wife, who has left him for another man. The result has him checking into a hotel, as is the rule in this unnamed dystopian city/world, where those who are single have 45 days to find a new partner. The idea is to find someone who shares a defining characteristic. It can be as simple as a shared like or buttered biscuit crackers or a lack of empathy altogether. Failure to find a companion, then David will be transformed into an animal of his choosing (hence the film’s title).
The practice of finding an ideal suitor is regulated to scouting the dining and dance halls of the hotel. Along the way, David befriends Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly). They do have names, but they are so rarely used that’s it’s better to identify them by their trademark characteristics. Which is something worth noting about David. He’s an architect but the characteristic the makes him unique is not a visual or aural cue.
Among the fray of possible companions is the desperately-seeking biscuit woman, a woman prone to nosebleeds, or a woman with no heart (figurative). And to insure that guests have enough time – and not end in Logan Run-esque fashion – they can gain days by tranquilizing Loners (those guests that have left the hotel and rejected its societal norms) – when they go on hunts in the surrounding woods. Not surprising, the woman without empathy has accumulated the most extra-stay days with well over 100 days added on.
So, yeah, The Lobster‘s premise is out there, but Lanthimos and the cast show such commitment to its absurdity. For instance, new resident males have one hand handcuffed behind their backs and their belts locked, thus preventing the evacuation of bodily fluids (white, yellow or brown) that first night. There’s a lot at work in The Lobster that extends far beyond the hotel and surrounding woods. The fact of definites, be it shoe size or sexual preference, leaves no wiggle-room for uncertainties. So no half sizes or bi-sexual options upon hotel check-in.
The most brilliant scenes occur in the hotel as Lanthimos vivisects relationship culture and the idea that you aren’t fully complete unless you are in a couple. Sprinkle in rye humor and deadpan situations and The Lobster becomes tangential in its observations of human interactions. And that’s only the first half. The second half shifts gears to the Loners, the society that exists in the woods, guided by Lea Seydoux with Rachel Weisz among the followers. Weisz is also the film’s narrator recounting David’s experiences at the hotel and as a loner.
Lanthimos’s ideas are strong in their delivery, but The Lobster loses some of its impact by being a tad drawn out. Some judicious cuts could have helped in the pacing when David transitions from a hotel resident to becoming a loner. Then he discovers Weisz’s character (aka the Short Sighted Woman) and his world alters again. Even with this shorting coming, The Lobster is genuinely affecting in all its strangeness, and allows you to consider the possibilities that can exist outside of Match.com and online compatibility variants when looking for someone.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s): Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Notable Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux