Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Lobster review

Yorgos Lanthimos's arthouse dream/nightmare has managed to attract some big stars, and a wide release, despite it's ... erm..... strange plot. Hit the jump to read my thoughts.

An 'interesting' storyline for sure
Colin Farrell is no stranger to unique movies. Without googling, 'In Bruges' springs to mind. Looking down that list of stars, 'Olivia Coleman' has starred in a variety of Brit indie-flicks, Smiley was steadfast in 'A Field in England', and Wishaw sticks in my mind for 'Cloud Atlas'. In fact, even John C. Reilly (the most 'american' star) gave an incredible performance in 'carnage'. But to have all these players together, with other steadfast names as Weisz, Barden, and Seydoux is remarkable. Ironically, it almost reminds me of Movie 43.... remember that one? Yeah, exactly. But this is no Movie 43.

Indeed, as the film begins we witness the 'execution' of a donkey. It's a little confusing, dark, and kinda funny as well. Let me tell you now, it still makes little sense. Shortly after,  Farrell checks into a hotel - decidedly 1970s - and is asked a series of point blanc quickfire questions. "Do you like women or men?" presents a bit of a challenge for him. Perhaps Lanthimos is criticizing the outlook of society on relationships, or most likely online dating. And then, perhaps the biggest surprise comes when Farrell refers to his dog as 'my brother; he didn't make it'. In any case, he is taken upstairs to a nice enough looking room, that has a prison-like tannoy system. He is to be kept in the hotel for 45 (I think) days, in order to find love. If he does not find a partner, then he shall be turned into an animal and sent away into the woods. He chooses a lobster: ironic really if you consider the meaning of the word in the sense of love.
An ensemble cast.
This already raises a lot of questions about love in relation to society. The bizarre-categorical attitude of dating agencies, sites, and most of the human world is clearly something that Lanthimos disagrees with. And then there is the idea of the single man being a pariah of society. In this hotel, Farrell is told that if he becomes single for too long, he will be turned into an animal and released into the woods. In other words: he is on the level of a lesser creature and will be outcast from human society. The hotel raises a lot of questions as well: in particular the strange fascination people seem to have with finding a matching feature between them (nosebleeds, limp) to cause love. Of course ,this happens in the real world too. For such a strange movie, I did see a lot of close matches with real society,

And it is in this hotel where a large portion of the movie occurs. Everyone speaks in a false, stilted voice (not bad acting, the converse), and some of the lines are pretty hilarious. Olivia Coleman and her 'husband' (who may or may not have starred in Dogtooth) put on shows that are hilarious in the best awkward way. And then the Kubrickian 'hunting' montages (in which the hotel guests return to the woods to track down and shoot single escapees in order to gain extra days) are shot with an exhilerating slow-motion that makes them one of this years darker pleasures. Speaking of Kubrick, actually, I saw a lot of A) his deadpan sensibility and B) his trademark symmetry in this film (which is always nice: the human eye seems to particularly enjoy symmetry).

A trip to the city
And then the action switches to the forest. You see, Farrell 'finds a partner', but it doesn't work out (you can find out why for yourself) and he has to escape into the woods. here he meets the other tribe of dating society: the adamant single population. Known as the singletons, this group - led by Lea Seydoux - live in the woods. Their lives are dangerous, they feel threatened by normal couples, and they must never flirt with each other. For the singleton, dating is forbidden. Life is dangerous, and order has fallen apart. To get supplies, they must travel to the 'city', where they 'pretend' to love each other in order to get to the shops without being stopped by the police. "Where's your partner", the police ask at every opportunity.

It is here that Farrell's character falls in love with Rachel Weisz. Their interactions in the city become more and more impassioned, climaxing in a humorous make-out session; and it is heavily suggested that they 'fuck in the woods'. They create a special code of tree slapping and 'inconspicuous' actions in order to convey their actions without being noticed by the others. Finally, a real relationship amidst this carnage. It also turns out that Weisz was a narrator for most of the first half: a narrator who added a lot of comic one-liners to the proceedings. But, alas, tragedy strikes and Farrell/Weisz must once again escape...

Not quite the great escape...
Once again, there's a lot of commentary about romantics in the 21st century. Lea Seydoux is incredibly funny as a militant singleton who executes fearsome wrath on those who dare to flirt (try to picture the 'red kiss' or, worse, the 'red intercourse'). In the city, all couples seem to be in a constant state of boredom and monotony - their postmodern apartments can't save them from the dreariness of each others company. And then that society frowns on single people. In fact, once Farrell has got past all of these obstacles, his one true love seems to be the hardest thing to attain - ironic given the circumstances. As the film draws to a close, our story is cloaked in comedy, tragedy, and romance (nothing comes out top); and the finale is a stunning end-piece that highlights the lengths that some will go to for their true love....

The whole ensemble cast is absolutely fantastic. Speaking in the false, monotone voices that I mentioned earlier, they deliver all the lines of the piece in a comedic and ironic tone. It's an interesting experiment that ultimately pays off. Special praise goes to Farrell and Weisz, who lead the picture in all it's strangeness. And then the seductively dangerous Seydoux, with her equally dubious partner (played by the surefire fantastic Michael Smiley). In terms of hotel guests, both Ben Wishaw and John C. Reilly are perfect as typical people (in this world at least) looking for love; and the conversations they have in a 3 with Farrell are either illuminating or hilarious or both. In fact, I can't really separate the cast members on the basis of prestige: they're all excellent.

The camerawork isn't dynamite, nor is it unique: but it's certainly excellent in that European-arthouse modernist style, enhanced by Kubrickian symmetry (and that Kubrickian dystopia so present in a Clockwork Orange). It is, of course, accompanied by a playful and brooding classical score that perfectly complements the supreme weirdness of the picture.

Overall, the Lobster looks good, feels good, has a good story, and a great ensemble cast. it's funny, smart, enlightening, and exceedingly dark. Yet there's just a little something missing in order for it to get that 5 stars....
The Lobster gets 4 stars!

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