Unusual Tale Of Romance In The Internet Age. Comfort Not Guaranteed.
The films of Yorgos Lanthimos are not for everyone. It is almost as if he puts a traditional film plot inside a funhouse mirror and photographs it. He has serious things to say, and I do think he wants viewers to get his message. I just do not think he wants anybody comfortable for even one minute.
Lanthimos is said to have gotten the idea for his breakthrough film, 2009’s Dogtooth, because he failed to share a friend’s enthusiasm about getting married. Dogtooth deals with three young people (a boy and two girls) on the threshold of adulthood. They have been so poorly home-schooled by their parents that they are both unable and unwilling to venture beyond the fences of the family dwelling area.
A cautionary tale for helicopter parents and their kids who never want to move out? Hard to say. The parents in Dogtooth give their offspring inaccurate vocabulary lessons (like “the sea” is a large armchair, and “zombies” are little yellow flowers). They bring a female factory worker to have sex with their son (she, in turn, barters with the older girl for certain sex acts). Watching Dogtooth is like being a fly on the wall at a cult compound.
Lanthimos’ dark new comedy, The Lobster, deals with romantic relationships. As with his other films, Lanthimos co-writes with Efthymis Filippou. The story appears to take place now or in the near future. Society imposes a requirement that single people check into the Hotel to be paired with a suitable mate. If they do not manage to find someone in 45 days, they will be turned into the animal of their choosing.
The protagonist, newly-divorced David (a restrained Colin Farrell), checks into the Hotel with a dog. He explains to management, “It’s my brother. He didn’t make it.” David, who is the only named character in the film, joins forces with Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) in the hunt for a new partner. They attend a number of planned functions, included periodic hunts of Loners (people who have escaped from the Hotel and created their own outlaw colony). For every Loner shot, the Resident gets an extra day added to the 45-day mating period.
The idea of opposites attracting is not part of the algorithm here. Residents of the Hotel are defined by their physical conditions, emphasizing the importance that they find new mates with similar issues. When Limping Man finds himself attracted to Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), he bashes his own nose so that he will have nosebleeds like hers. The ruse pays off, and Limping Man is the first of the trio to move into the Couples area.
David tries something similar with Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), but the results are disastrous. He is left with two alternatives- allow the Hotel staff to turn him into a lobster (his chosen animal) immediately, or escape to become one of the Loners. David chooses the latter.
At first, David is happy being part of the Loners. There is no pressure to find a mate or interact socially. Everything changes, though, when he falls in love with another Loner, Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). Unfortunately, Loners are forbidden to form romantic attachments. Those who fall in love are subject to extreme physical punishments. So, what are David and Short Sighted Woman to do?
As mentioned, this is a real change of pace for Colin Farrell. His performance is a gem, matched by Rachel Weisz (whose matter-of-fact voiceover gives details about the story). There is a real, and interesting, chemistry between these two characters.
I would call Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography breathtaking, except that it seems inappropriate given the film’s tone. The Lobster was shot in Ireland (County Kerry and Dublin), using natural light except for a few night scenes. Another rarity-actors in this film worked almost entirely without makeup. Visually, this is a very engaging film.
It is also engaging from an intellectual standpoint, but maybe not on first viewing. This one requires mulling over. My conclusion is that The Lobster is a comment on relationships in the Internet age. Both groups (Hotel and Loners) have narrows sets of rules and punish even small infractions severely. There is no gray area with either group, and certainly no tolerance of opposing views. In fact, disagreement can get you hunted down.
In spite of everything, though, people still manage to fall in love. Ironically, this ebony-dark, dystopian comedy has a sweet and hopeful message at its heart. Just do not tell Lanthimos that I said so.
Theme: Dystopian Romance
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