BIFF 2015: The Lobster

Bergen International Film Festival 2015

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is as peculiar and unique as it gets, and is in many ways an exercise in contradiction. It is both hysterically funny – laugh out loud moments from beginning to end – and morbidly brutal – both in its visceral violence and humanistic observations. It challenges societal conventions and constructions about relationships, loneliness, narcissism and much more, but never presents an explicit message; leaving every thread open for interpretation. It’s Lanthimos’ first venture into english language cinema, but it’s still deeply rooted in his idiosyncratic cinematic language. It is fantastic; a pure masterpiece – as grandiose and hyperbolic as the connotations of these words are.

In a near dystopian future, a totalitarian regime has declared it illegal to be single. People who are found in breach of this law are collected and transported to The Hotel, where they’ll be given forty-five days to find a suitable match. Should they fail to do so, they’ll be turned into an animal of their choice, and set loose into The Woods. We follow David (Colin Farrell), who is forced to take up residency at The Hotel when his wife leaves him for another man. Here he meets a fantastical cast of characters, only credited by their physical attributes and characteristics; Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), and later on we are introduced to Léa Seydoux’s Lone Leader and Rachel Weisz’s Short Sighted Woman.

This may sound totally absurd, but that’s only because it is, and that’s why I don’t want to say too much about the story. The entire movie is a roller-coaster of ups and downs; its first half is non-stop hilarity interposed by the occasional visceral gut-punch, while the latter half slows things down to a more muted and contemplative presentation, with the occasional witticisms. The one constant throughout it all is its profound observations. I can shatter my word count by talking about all these, because there are many, but to do so would be to color your experience before going into the movie, and I don’t want to do that. To say, as I did up top, that it challenges societal constructs doesn’t cover half of it, but it’s still enough. It’s fair to think the movie would be buried by an abundance of complex observations, but because Lanthimos never wants or tries to present any answers, universal or otherwise, it manages to stay wholly above ground. It lets anyone and everyone come up with their own answers to these questions, and in many ways, the entire movie is open for interpretations. You may find things I never did, and I may find things you disagree with, but that’s where the real beauty lies. Too many movies strive to deliver an answer to the questions they pose (Interstellar punching you straight in the face with its ANSWER, almost ruining an otherwise fantastic movie), when they should be showing restraint and respect towards their audience.

The Lobster‘s absurdist narrative has clear connotations to the Kafkaesque – as nightmarishly freakish as it is relatable and real – and this is all thanks to how the world is created. Lanthimos and co-writer, Efthymis Filippou, has built a universe that is inherently unreal and insane, but they make it utterly believable. The rules and fabrications that make up this universe are so deliberate and complete, that it’s next to impossible to poke holes in them. This all comes down to Lanthimos’ clarity of voice.  As I said above, the idiosyncrasies of Lanthimos still remain, from how he managed to find a serene beauty in the familial disturbances that was Dogtooth, to the even more obscure Alps, and it’s difficult to point to any other director who does it as well – or at all – which to me places him more in the sphere of our most prestigious novelists, than any directorial grouping.

There is so much I want to say about The Lobster; I’ve not touched upon the impeccable performances from all the actors – their apathy in perfect contradiction to their circumstance – nor have I said how well Lanthimos uses the Northern-Irish landscape to tell his story; or even how intricate these characters are – who, as I said above – we only come to know by their physical attributes. I don’t want to talk too much about all these things because it deserves to be experienced in the most sincere and unspoilt way possible; and trust me when I say, you want to experience The Lobster. 

Per Morten Mjolkeraaen

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