Published on January 3rd, 2016 | by Nathan Raine0
As a general rule, making films like this, films which are both conceptually absurd and deliberately alienating to the audience, shouldn’t be encouraged. An artist employing this kind of conceited approach usually get exactly what they asked for: indecipherable nonsense in which their transparent thrusts at the bleeding edge do, in fact, alienate the audience, yielding something ridiculous, insufferable, and [to use a dirty/lazy word], pretentious. The kind of ‘avant-garde’ that makes people bend over the toilet.
But, if you’re Lanthimos, potentially our first filmmaker from another planet, you’ve somehow made a career of channeling preposterous levels of absurdity without any of the proverbial toilet-bending.
“Lobsters live for over 100 years. They’re blue-blooded, like aristocrats. And, stay fertile all their lives.” – This being rationale from David [a stilted Colin Farrell], on which animal he wishes to become, if after his 45 day stay at the hotel, he fails to fall in love. That’s barring any extensions to his stay granted for hunting and tranquilizing a rabid pack of woodland “loners”, of course. This is the unbelievably ridiculous and fascinating premise of The Lobster, the newest discharge of comic absurdity from the mind of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.
It’s his fourth feature, and by now, we’re beginning to get a very good sense of what type of artist, even visionary, this Greek weirdo is. Lanthimos takes a foundational part of human experience, such as language and societal interaction [Dogtooth], grieving and loneliness [Alps], or courtship and romance [The Lobster] and completely disarms it of any of it’s naturalness, or the audience’s ability to identify with that which we consider innate. In his worlds, Lanthimos establishes a distorted set of rules and codes of behaviour, and conflict occurs when his characters start to recognize and break these inverted rules.
So let’s talk The Lobster. I can say with confidence that it’s every bit as good as his acclaimed Dogtooth, and perhaps more esoteric. The Lobster isn’t overly interested in plot, so, in lieu of a summary, let’s just fire off a few of the more notable snapshots: there’s grotesque [simulated] animal slaughterings, and sudden bursts of violence both disturbing and comical. There’s sterile prison-like hotels which provide for their guests a mandatory wardrobe, an array of approved activities, and a rifle. There’s a group of loners inhabiting the wood like some pack of escaped zoo animals. There’s a hilarious and hormonal John C. Reilly. And there’s the ever-present threat of being transformed into an animal as a penalty for being single.
It’s completely insane, yet we buy into the entire asinine thing. Lanthimos sets his own standards of what, in this unrecognizable world, might be logical or illogical. No one raises an eyebrow over the transformation of humans into animals, but, as we learn matter-of-factly from the Hotel’s manager, be rational in your choice of animal: “a wolf and a penguin cannot live together,” because, obviously, “that would be absurd.”
The Lobster is emphatically about the absurdity, and often artificiality, of human relationships. Partnership is governmentally enforced and thus self-preservation means finding oneself a mate at any cost, even sincerity. It’s a comic satire that Lanthimos navigates in ultra-deadpan. The guests at the hotel are essentially scrolling through a real-life version of Tinder, equally superficial and narcissistic in their snap-judgements of appropriate mates. Desperate singles base their comparability in some shared defect or trait, such as a propensity for nosebleeds, having a limp, or nearsightedness — often lacking any real symptom of love. Rampant artificiality is also found the bizarre way characters communicate with one another. The cast includes both native English speakers [Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz] and non-native English speakers [Lea Seydoux, Ariane Labed], all performing dialogue in a uniform, tonally dead manner, devoid of any natural human cadence. Further, characters are blunt, and abandon any social graces or etiquette, in favour of simply blurting out what is on their minds. In a society hyper-focused on coupling as an indicator of normality, the methods by which couples find “love” couldn’t be more inhuman. Like any good satire, it feels not unlike the pressure our society imposes on what is normal, and Lanthimos, in his poking fun at the artificiality of our rules and codes, shows what is actually true and genuine in human experience.
The Lobster‘s only shortcoming being the overly-long woodland chapter. Here, we meet the loners; a forest dwelling militant group, forbidding all notions of love and romance. The loners are terrorists to the hotel’s agenda, and threaten their lives by engineering elaborate hijacks of the guests, forcing a couple to make a decidedly selfish choice, drawing out the falsity of the relationship and the instinct for self interest. These scenes are powerful, but too scarce. Lanthimos instead gives us a lot of breathing room in the woodland for David to fall in love, and essentially, oppose these outlandish codes of behaviour. The narrative and Lanthimos’ cynical stabs here are far less sharp. But, he does save his best for last. In a nearly unwatchable and revelatory final scene, David beings to perform a unbelievably savage sacrifice in order to maintain prospect of finding true love. It’s shocking, and Lanthimos at his most impactful. He leaves us to question whether romance is ever free immune from notions of self-preservation, and, asks us what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to engage in a real way. If David goes on to carry out the gesture, it might be one of the most savagely romantic moments in film history. Regardless, through these obscenely artificial interactions, Lanthimos somehow extracts something profoundly real.
Oh, and that final scene, coincidentally enough, takes place in the toilet.