So many great stories end with the message that life is meant to be shared with someone else. This statement, in all likelihood, is one a majority of people in the world would agree with. The latest film from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, however, will make you seriously consider if not refute this universally held belief.
As he did with his Oscar-nominated foreign film “Dogtooth,” Lanthimos builds a concept- driven story in “The Lobster” that explores the possibilities of how humans would react to well-intentioned extremism. And like “Dogtooth,” “The Lobster” puts its viewer in the most uncomfortable of situations through Lanthimos’ patented blunt/deadpan sexual situations and violence.
“The Lobster” imagines a dystopian Europe in which romantic companionship is both required and strictly enforced. We experience the process of finding a partner through the eyes of David (Colin Farrell), a man whose wife has just left him, which means he must go back to The Hotel, where with the help and guidance of management, guests must find a partner and fall in love in 45 days or be turned into animals and sent into the woods.
This bizarre and intriguing premise is sure to capture the attention of just about any imaginative movie fan, but only so many will be able to handle Lanthimos’ bold, often unsettling and especially provocative style, which induces squirms as much as intellectual stimulation.
The world and satirical analogy that Lanthimos has constructed with writing partner Efthymis Filippou is elaborate, which becomes extremely apparent when you learn that there are “loners” out in the woods, those who fled The Hotel, are trying to live on their own and diametrically oppose the values of civilization to the same strict degree. Hotel guests and encouraged to hunt these people down, and they earn extra time at The Hotel in exchange for captures.
Bolstered by an excellent cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux and Olivia Colman, “The Lobster” examines Western society’s romantic standards and structures through these exaggerations in hopes of uncovering some greater truths about love and the lengths people will go to to find it (and in some cases, fake it).
Lanthimos is not shy about shocking the audience, but “The Lobster” demonstrates some growth in this arena; he dials back some of the explicit imagery (particularly the nudity) as if recognizing that suggested sexual situations can be just as if not more powerful than depicted ones. He has no shortage of opportunities in the film to show nudity or sex and opts for none, letting the audience’s imagination do the work and elicit its own potent reaction. Violence, on the other hand, the film is not shy about, though Lanthimos opts for disturbing and awkward rather than gory and gratuitous.
The impact of these choices tremendously benefits “The Lobster.” Although there’s no denying the brusque, uncomfortable nature of the film, these tactics aren’t as big of a distraction as they were in “Dogtooth.” As a result, what we do see doesn’t rattle us beyond any possible comprehension of themes and ideas, but provokes them. And there’s plenty of breathing room to let it all sink in.
“The Lobster” provides incredibly fresh perspective on and sharp insight into love and relationships, something that will undoubtedly resonate with those viewers intrigued enough by the premise and not repelled by its explicit situations. Its ambiguous ending will annoy some and multiply the adoration of others, but regardless, it succeeds at pushing the viewer to really consider all of its many facets and ideas. As long as Lanthimos can continue to strike the balance between challenging ideas and images and thoughtful ones, he’ll continue to make great films for a long time.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly