My top ten films of 2016 would definitely have to include this foreign film, which received quite a bit of attention at Cannes last May. The Lobster is such a unique, bizarre look at dating and companionship that I really feel is worth a watch: in fact, it’s playing for free on Amazon Prime right now (as of January 2017). Granted, there are scenes when the film’s black comedy actually veers into disturbing tones and even horror elements, but the overall presentation is just too much to miss.
Imagine a future in which single people are routinely herded into a gorgeous hotel with plush amenities. We’re given the impression that this is somewhere in Europe, but the location and nationality of the characters that inhabit The Lobster are really of no consequence because the theme of pursuing love is so universal. Plus, the monotone that most of the characters speak in make it difficult to put any kind of label on them.
Anyhow, at this hotel they are given 45 days to find a suitable mate to spend the rest of their lives with. If they do find such a person, they are given a couples suite and several different examinations before ultimately landing on a yacht for 15 days to finalize the union. If the couple finds themselves arguing, fighting and at an impasse after a few days, well, they’re typically given a child, which “seems to help the situation.” And, if these individuals are unable to find that elusive, suitable mate, well.. they’re turned into an animal of their choice. This detail makes for interesting visuals as various animals are seen in the background throughout the film, which seem random at first.
If The Lobster sounds otherworldly and Kafka-esque, I can tell you it is. From the opening sequence in which a random woman pulls off a country road and executes a donkey with a pistol to our subsequent introduction to David, director Yorgos Lanthimos successfully yanks the viewer into this dystopian world and keeps them there for two hours. Colin Farrell stars as David. We meet him as he is petting his brother, who has turned himself into a Border Collie. David is now preparing himself to join other lonely hearts at the hotel. He’ll be our guinea pig as we learn about how the hotel functions, its rules and daily activities. And as we navigate through Act One, we realize that everyone talks in very simple, monotone sentences so as not to offend or stand out too far, other than to appropriately attract another guest.
The stark sets, the dramatic musical score, the persona of the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman – awesome performance, just like her TV turn on The Night Manager, FYI), the “game” in the woods in which guests shoot each other with tranquilizer guns to earn more days at the hotel, which is beautifully set to slow motion – all of these cinematic elements and more contribute to this hugely engaging tale. Director Lanthimos has successfully channeled his inner Kubrick and given us a purely unique world with a central character we can root for, even if it isn’t David.
In fact, it’s the nameless “Short Sighted Woman” played by Rachel Weisz that we’re rooting for. At least I was. Credit to her for having such a distinct voice that I recognized her voice-over from the very beginning. She narrates the film until the midpoint, which is when David escapes the Hotel and finds the “Loners” in the woods. This group is led by a most intense leader, played by Lea Seydoux. Come to think of it, has this actress played any non-intense characters to this point in her career? Anyhow, it’s fascinating how in retrospect, Lanthimos easily could have switched the order of the Hotel and the Loners. The Hotel is a metaphor for society’s insistence that people follow Thornton Wilder’s suggestion in Our Town and “go through life two by two.” The “Loners” are an equal metaphor for the ludicrous behavior that some people exhibit in remaining alone. Don’t flirt? Don’t intimately interact.. with anyone? Aren’t we human?