From the startling opening moments and continuing all throughout its entirely beguiling and metaphorical narrative, The Lobster presents us with another bizarre cinematic world from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (the Oscar nominated shock-fest Dogtooth and the funereal drama Alps), an emotional sadist who is constantly picking at his filmic subjects like itchy scabs, always trying to expose the raw and volatile relationship between humans and their fragile sensibilities. Co-written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, this is true, absurdist, pitch-black comedy, with plot threads that will make you feel purposefully uncomfortable, which you then feel bad about laughing over.
The only thing I’m not super keen on in Lanthimos’ decidedly bleak yet strangely hopeful worldview is his strange obsession with weird animal violence; not sure where all of that comes from, but it’s a recurring theme for him that’s very noticeable. Colin Farrell isn’t the first actor you think of when dry comedy is the order of the day, but he fits perfectly within this rigidly stylish film that continually subverts its own sense of pictorial precision with a story that’s alternately confounding and exhilarating. Lanthimos is a true original and I can safely say that his films feel like the creations of only himself, so it comes as no surprise that this bizarre film won the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and that so many big movie stars would jump at the chance to work with this brazen and unpredictable filmmaker.
The Lobster supposes a near-future where, by law, people must have a life companion. If you’re single, you’re sent to this ominous and ostentatious hotel that rests near the ocean, and you’re given 45 days to find a mate. And if you’re unsuccessful in your romantic quest, no worries, you’ll be turned into the animal of your choice, and released into the nearby woods, where you can look for love as a different species. If all of this sounds lunatic, well, it is, but it most certainly has a point of view in terms of relationships and societal expectations and honesty within the construct of partnership, and it basically serves as a corrective to the mindless crap that the Hollywood studios churn out on a weekly basis.
Lanthimos recruited a starry cast for his first English language movie, including the magnificent Rachel Weisz, a priceless John C. Reilly, the brittle Olivia Colman, the uniquely photogenic Lea Seydoux, and a mysterious Ben Whishaw. Each shot by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis feels formally perfect and in total synch with the sharp editing by Yorgos Mavropsaridis, the keep-you-on-edge musical jolts add a repeated sense of menace, and the way Lanthimos builds his entire creation to its haunting finale will keep you buzzing after the last frame has been exposed. I’ll certainly need to see this offbeat item again to unlock all of its secrets, but like the best of films, it’s begging me for an immediate revisit.
Review by Nick Clement