THE LOBSTER. Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Olivia Colman. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. 118 minutes.Rated MA15+ (Strong themes and violence).
‘The Lobster’ is Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English language feature, and was awarded the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (roughly the equivalent of the third place medal). It is set in a near, dystopian future, where single people are sent to The Hotel to find a partner within 45 days – failure results in being turned into an animal of one’s choosing. As the description may betray, it is deeply absurd, but also a very amusing black comedy and a terrifically made study of romance to boot.
David, played by Colin Farrell, is taken to The Hotel after his wife leaves him for another man. With him is a dog, which we learn is his late brother who previously failed to find love there. He tells management that he wishes to become a lobster after the 45th day. David commences the daily routine strictly enforced by management – functions are attended with the other guests to encourage coupling, short propaganda plays promoting the same thing are performed for residents, the maid arouses male residents each morning without consummation to boost their desperation, and they hunt for Hotel escapees daily. In the hunt, each runaway captured results in an extra day of humanity for the captor.
Lanthimos uses the world that he and co-writer Efthimis Filippou have created to explore what contemporary society has done to the notion of love and relationships. Characters identify themselves by and are named after their defining traits – ‘Lisping Man’ and ‘Biscuit Woman’. Couple are formed on the primary basis of one shared feature. ‘Limping Man’ self-harms to incite ‘spontaneous’ nosebleeds to win the affections of ‘Nosebleed Woman’. Couples who begin to bicker are given a child, as this ‘usually helps’. The first act emphasises the satirical aspect to darkly funny effect, and this reviewer’s screening was genuinely uproarious in patches. It pushes the boundaries of taste (take heed of the film’s classification), but a high proportion of its risqué material hits the mark.
After failing to make it in The Hotel, David runs into the wilderness to live with the loners he has previously hunted. They have fewer strict rules, but an absolute ban on flirting or physical entanglement. Here, David meets ‘Short Sighted Woman’, played by the sublime Rachel Weisz, who until now has provided the film’s narration. They fall for each other, however the rules stand in their way once more. The forest is gorgeously captured by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, its lush and wild depths in stark contrast to the crisply lit interiors of The Hotel, and the locations used throughout the film (primarily Irish locales) are almost devastatingly beautiful.
Weisz and Farrell deliver their relationship with tender grace, two outsiders finding something to belong to, and their dalliance becomes surprisingly moving. Secret missions into The City require them to pose as a married couple, a minor revolt that brings their transgression closer to the surface. As the narrative winds to a tragic yet predictably unresolved conclusion, one is left to reflect on how deeply this film will be pored over by film studies students in the future. Needless to say, there is much to be dissected, levels of which would be revealed only with repeat viewings. The assembled cast, largely a cross-section of British talent, are a joy to watch as they advance deadpan through Lanthimos’ observational and direct dialogue, highlighting the absurdity of everyday interactions.
It is a very challenging work, as it holds a rather uncomfortable mirror up to modern society. As such, and given its dark themes, it is not a film for everyone. However, viewers appreciative of independent auteur cinema will be rewarded by an intelligently constructed experience which makes one laugh out loud and think in silence in equal measure.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 22.