Saturday, March 18, 2017

Film Notes: The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos' film The Lobster is a most unusual offering. In fact it is weird; gloriously weird. The Lobster is a curious tale of the individual battling against social conformity on every side; set in a surreal, absurd and dystopian version of our own society. Despite that unifying theme, the rest of the film is a patchwork of different moods and settings; the two halves of the film are hugely different, and there are moments of horror, desperate bleakness, hopeless pity, and brilliant black comedy. If that sounds a bit Black Mirror, then that's probably not far from the mark.

Colin Farrell plays the lead character, David. In the opening scene of the film he is dumped by his wife, and promptly arrested, as the tightly controlled society in which he lives does not permit singleness. The exclusion so often felt by single people in our world, is extrapolated to being a matter of law in this film. Such a social satire is only the beginning of the weirdness however. Singles are taken to a 'hotel' in which they have 45 days to find a mate (with whom they must share a 'defining characteristic'), failure to achieve which results in them being turned into an animal of their choice. The Lobster of the title, refers to David's choice of transformation in the event of his failure at the hotel. The hotel, with its overbearing social rules (overseen by a brilliantly hilarious Olivia Coleman) is a surreal house of nightmares; complete with dating rituals, appalling punishments, and weird sexual codes. To add to the escalating madness, hotel residents can 'buy' extra days before their time is up, by killing single people in hunting expeditions into the surrounding woods. All the characters in the film seem to speak in a detached monotone too - as their genuine self-expression has long since expired beneath the all pervasive conformity. It is as bleak and soulless as their required sexual expression.

The first half of the film is set in this hotel, and is gripping, appalling, deeply weird - and brilliantly executed. Another twist is that David is the only character with a name - everyone else is only known by their defining characteristic, another symbol of their de-individualisation by the system.

The film then abruptly changes mood, as David escapes from the hotel and joins a renegade group in the woods. While the viewer might think that he will find some kind of freedom - here he discovers that singleness is enforced with the same degree of brutality as coupledom is in the hotel. Just as in the hotel, we never learn a character's name - here too they are just known as "shortsighted woman", even Lea Seydoux's chilling character is only known as the "Leader". In the woods, amongst the Loner's. David begins to fall for "Shortsighted Woman", played by Rachel Weisz - who also turns out to be the whole film's narrator. When the Leader discovers their affair, she blinds 'Shortsighted Woman', to prevent them running away to the city to live as a couple; unless of course David blinds himself too in order to share the all-important defining characteristic......

The second half of the film is less convincing than the first, probably because it doesn't maintain the surreal, bleak, absurdist humour to the same level. While this film is alarmingly wonderful, most of the brilliance (and the offence, actually), comes in the first half. There is little in the latter half to take the film above a (12) certificate, most of the language, violence and sexual references occur in the hotel; earning it a (15).

The Lobster is a warped, highly imaginative comic-horror-absurdist farce about social conformity. It is like no other film in its nonsensical premise, its relentless following of its own internal logic, and comic darkness and social commentary. It is greatly helped by brilliant performances from a superb cast, with Farrell, Weisz, Coleman and Seydoux at the fore. The soundtrack, with its flourishes of classical music, bursting in and out - add a further note of eccentric and outlandish creativity to proceedings. 

Highly entertaining, haunting, offensive, thought-provoking, profoundly idiosyncratic, and inconsistent; what's not to like about The Lobster. Definitely not one for under-15s though...

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