Review of The Lobster (2015) by Yorgos Lanthimos
Imagine a Wes Anderson dystopian universe without the antic characters and you will have an idea of what Yorgos Lanthimos, in his first English-language film has created. In this totalitarian world the only legitimate status for adults is married and to willfully reject that is to be criminalized. People can be stopped by the police for no reason and required to show proof of marriage or be arrested. The system is full of incentives to encourage this vision of society including facilities to enable and promote those goals with some not-so-subtle negative consequences for bucking the system.
When the film opens David (played by a baleful Colin Farrell) is being dumped by his wife. He is leaving home with a suitcase and his dog, Bob, to go a place where single people go to find a mate. But this is not some swinging Club Med sort of place. It is more like an EST summer camp for adults. He is interviewed, given clothes which are exactly like everyone else’s, a room and an orientation program with strict rules and 45 days in which to find a mate or else...... All of this he must agree to and sign a contract. If the conditions are not met the options are forced “transition” into the animal of one’s own choosing or the outlaw life of the “singles” who live a feral existance in the woods.
There is not much joy and little spontaneity in The Hotel as everyone appears to have been simply brainwashed into the program. Conditions for compatibility can be as bizarre as nearsightedness or migraines. David makes friends with two other inmates played by John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw and as the deadline approaches and the pressure mounts things take a more vicious turn. It seems that extra time can be bought by going out and capturing the “loners” who roam the woods. The inmates are given weapons and taken on sorties.
At the same time the dating rituals become more desperate and bizarre in order to seal the deal in the allotted time. One man fakes nosebleeds to connect with a girl who really has them. David hooks up with a haughty, aloof beauty known as the cruelest woman in the hotel. His wooing involves sadistic behavior and pretending to appreciate the vicious acts to which she is prone. Alas, she goes too far and David’s retaliation is justifiably fitting but he is forced to flee to the woods.
The woods, which are strangely beautiful, look like a better place at first - populated as they are by the most exotic varieties of impossible animals - giraffes, ostriches, camels, peacocks, zebras. One suspects they are the embodiments of the unsuccessful inmates from the hotel. But David discovers that the “loners” have their own strict regulations. They are living the life of guerilla insurgents whose only goal is to overthrow the marriage party and abduct or recruit as many as possible. To that end any fraternizing which even hints at flirting or hooking up is totally forbidden. Wouldn’t you know that’s where David finds his match (Rachel Weisz). Needless to say, nothing goes smoothly and the denouement adds a final surreal flourish.
Lanthimos seems to be responding to something increasingly widespread and disturbing - the conflict and chaos caused by ideological extremism in a highly partisan world where there is no place for individuality, empathy or alternative behavior. He has created an absurdist black comedy and served it straight up. The Lobster won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2015.
Article © Belle McIntyre