Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015, Ireland-UK-Greeece-France-Netherlands-USA

Anyone looking for an alternative, intriguing premise is bound to be lured by Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film: a man goes to a hotel and is told he must find a partner or, should he fail, he’ll be turned into an animal of his choosing. He chooses a lobster.

Which surely seems whimsical and farcical but the film isn’t quite those things:  rather, it sets up a world where the social demands of partnering up is filtered through Dystopian tropes. Where it succeeds mostly is when it is relating the pressures of finding a partner to the methods of political propaganda. For example, in the stiffly acted amateur dramatics vignettes about the perils of being a loner; or, humorously, in the savaged-by-karaoke of Gene Pitney’s ‘Something’s Got a Hold of my Heart”. There is no true romance here, just people subjected to rigorous peer pressure to pair up using superficial defining traits. 

Much of this is (very) deadpan funny and satirical and gets close to the more dictatorial burden of dating and hooking up: what we do to find someone, for example, and the lies told (to others and ourselves) to claim we are similar and therefore compatible. All this conveyed by flat dialogue and affected performances that’s built upon expectation: mostly characters won’t say things out-of-line but it becomes apparent that perhaps these characters don’t know how to. And by conveying this in the desperation and confines of social strictures you have a surprisingly “Nineteen Eight-Four”, “Brave New World” feel to the proceedings. 

But then David (Farrell) joins the revolution of singles in the forest outside and he falls genuinely for a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) and the narrative becomes a far more obviously about forbidden love (singles aren't allowed to pair up). But the focus starts to seem lost and decidedly less compelling in this second half and therefore feels too long. It’s not so successful at depicting individuality as a revolution just as uncompromising as the coupling up. Or rather, doubt about the premise sets in because the experimentation and surrealism seems more indulgent than revealing. 

Nevertheless, there is much to respect here and the cast is notable for making the affectations work. It also has a final beat that brings it all back into focus and implies that David is so immersed in this world he knows no better. But as a drama it feels so top-heavy that this ending is more staggered to than follows a direct path.

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