By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 27, 2015 |
By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 27, 2015 |
Ever felt societal pressure to find ‘the one’ and settle down? Don’t worry so have the characters in Yorgos Lanthimos’ brilliant, dystopian film The Lobster, who, upon becoming single after their partner dies or dumps them, are granted just 45 days by law to find a new life partner. If they fail, they will get turned into an animal of their choice and released into the wild. I know, it’s kind of rough.
Colin Farrell plays David, a recently jilted man who arrives at a kind of rehab centre for singletons, where all of them are encouraged to pair off with each other. People seem to match up on grounds of a shared trait, like getting nosebleeds, or having good hair. Love doesn’t come into it in the slightest. Fellow inmates at the commune include Ben Whishaw, a recently bereaved man with a limp, and John C. Reilly as a man with a lisp. Every day that the guests are at the centre, they go out hunting other singletons in the woods, and are granted an extra day as a human for every one they kill. The film hit a bit of a nerve with this confirmed bachelor; I’d have been made a golden eagle (I know, it’s a great choice) about 18 years ago.
Lanthimos’ film has attracted a star cast featuring, amusingly, Daniel Craig’s lifepartner (Rachel Weisz) and two of his James Bond costars (Whishaw and Lea Seydoux). Weisz and Seydoux play members of an outlaw band of single people living like savages in the woods, forbidden to enter into couples; Farrell’s character will later integrate this group as things go from bad to worse for him.
The film’s exceptional quality is visible from the start: with a great deal of assurance, Lanthimos lays out this world without talking down to his audience or resorting to clunking exposition. This oddball universe soon comes to feel real and evocative, allowing the audience to relax into the narrative that takes place within it. Thrillingly, the film is at once a savage satire on modern life (chiefly in its first half) and an edge-of-theseat thriller (in the second), as Farrell and Weisz struggle to make it in this world as outcasts.
The Lobster is bitingly funny: Olivia Colman, as the director of the centre David stays in, is wickedly comical as a prim, controlling despot; and to see Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly get into ineffectual fisticuffs after Whishaw ridicules Reilly’s decision to become a parrot (“You’ve got a lisp and you picked the one animal that talks”), is to know cinema comedy heaven. The film’s wit often exists on a very visceral, disturbing level: I’m afraid to say I laughed at Colin Farrell kicking a little girl in the shin, and at one character calmly sipping tea while another lies nearby dying in agony. The film is merciless in pointing out our despair to get along, to succeed, to fit into society which requires huge acts of cruelty in this universe. In this world, characters all speak in a kind of staccato delivery, stating their intentions with no irony or shame. At one point Lea Seydoux asks Farrell where’s he been she’s been looking for him everywhere and he replies in a winningly matter-of-fact voice, “I was masturbating behind a tree.” She registers this information with scarcely the flicker of an eyelash.
Colin Farrell is excellent in this film, which is full of standout performances: bringing killer comic timing to his role, he also sensitively conveys David’s pain, his desperation, his fundamental goodness. If Farrell is the soul of the movie, Weisz is its beating heart, and their eventual romance is tenderly, poignantly drawn. Other notable turns include Aggeliki Papoulia’s hilariously stony performance as a woman with no feelings, whom David desperately tries to hook up with early in the film, and Ashley Jensen as a woman who likes eating biscuits and tries to make it with David.
If this weren’t enough, The Lobster is also generous in making an effort to be so visually stunning: these events take place in a brittle landscape by the sea, buffeted by strong winds, which director of photography Thimios Bakatakis films exquisitely. Each shot captures the strange interaction between humans and their environment: we see from these arresting pictures how elemental our personhood is, how animal in the end. The film’s brilliance lies, too, in the way it ekes visual surprises out of various situations: there is always something startling to look at, to dwell on. In one scene where Colin Farrell digs his own grave and covers himself with earth, filmed unshakingly, you get the sense of how threadbare his humanity is, but you are also presented with an arresting image that gives you a jolt.
With a bit of luck, this film with its star cast and breathtaking vision will enable Lanthimos to break out somewhat commercially. The Lobster is a dark, twisted, humane, intelligent and deeply involving drama that everyone should have a crack at.