The Lobster (2016, Ireland/Greece/USA, d. Yorgos Lanthimos, 118 Minutes)
by Jesse Stringer
In a dystopian future, single people are arrested and held by authorities at a luxury hotel. There, they must find a matching mate within 45 days, otherwise they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the woods. On paper, this sounds very intriguing, but it also sounds like the plot of a terrible B-movie. Thankfully, it is actually a fantastic romantic comedy that is rich with surrealism, emotion, and even some social commentary. Welcome to the wonderful absurdist world of Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film, The Lobster.
The Lobster marks the english language debut for the Greek director. Known mostly for his 2010 film, Dogtooth, anyone familiar with Lanthimos’ filmography would surely know they are in for a surreal experience. Now, one would think the english language debut from this director might be more restrained. Surprisingly enough however, The Lobster is just as strange as his prior films but in the best possible way. The Lobster is a perfect example of a film that appeals to every emotion and audience including drama, suspense, comedy, romance, science fiction, and even action. With all of those elements present, the film manages to keep a consistent tone and to portray a cohesive message. Not only that, but the film’s main cast plays a big part in helping bring this story to the screen.
It is kind of incredible that a cast of this merit would sign on to play in a film like this, but clearly they understood what Lanthimos’ vision for The Lobster would be. Our main character, David, is played excellently by Colin Farrell, probably being his best performance since 2008’s In Bruges. It is a very nuanced performance that fits perfectly within the world this film sets up. Rachel Weisz also delivers a great performance. Her character feels the most human in a sea of beautifully strange characters, which helps to provide heart and tenderness to the film. And speaking of beautifully strange characters, The Lobster features outstanding supporting performances from an eclectic group of actors including John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, Olivia Colman and Angeliki Papoulia.
As stated before, the film easily could’ve ended up badly in the hands of the wrong writer, thankfully Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou know how to masterfully blend the insane with a dark reality. They create a world that seems laughable at first, but the deeper one travels within it, one would start to see the disturbing nature of the story. The Lobster is very aware that its plot is absurd and this is evident when watching the film; because it is written with such sharp wit. But within the comedy lies a darkness. Similar to the films of The Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino, there are a handful of scenes in The Lobster that out of context may be found extremely disturbing and even terrifying, but while watching the film, it is hard not to chuckle even at the film’s darkest moments. The scripts strongest element however, is its excellent use of satire on modern romance and social institution. By satirizing such topics, The Lobster can stand on its own in a plethora of romantic comedies, with ideas that will likely still be relevant in years to come.
The mark of any good director, is to make their presence known in their film; keeping their vision clear and consistent. And above all making a memorable film experience. Yorgos Lanthimos goes above and beyond in all of these areas with The Lobster proving once again he is one of the most innovative storytellers working in the film industry today. While watching The Lobster, one can’t help but notice the echoes of “Kubrickian” satire likened to the films of A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove. It is an extremely well paced film. It truly takes you on a layered journey, so much so that once the screen cuts to black, it feels as if a dimension has closed off, and one is left back in the seat of the theater they were sitting in. The comedic beats are spot on and the emotional scenes are strong as well. No aspect of the film went unnoticed it seems, from the production design to the shot composition to the blocking of the extras, everything feels very precise and particular to Lanthimos’ vision, which is what makes the film so brilliant and exciting. Not only that, but it looks gorgeous. Lanthimos and his cinematographer, Thimios Bakatakis, constructed some amazing shots using mostly natural light. Each shot serve as a beautiful art piece on its own. And included in all of these shots is some beautiful symbolism that likely can’t all be seen in just one view of the film. Lanthimos has proved with The Lobster that he is a creative force to be reckoned with.
It’s hard to imagine any other film in 2016 will top this one, for The Lobster is just a beautifully unique film experience. There really isn’t anything glaringly wrong with it. Yorgos Lanthimos has constructed a truly original arthouse comedy that will likely entertain and perplex audiences of all ages. Even if one didn’t like the film, it would be near impossible to not want to discuss it and dissect its every last moment. The Lobster is a true masterwork in romantic satire, so much so that before the film even ends it feels as if one is witnessing a classic film.