In the strange and uncertain world depicted by Yorgos Lanthimos in ‘The Lobster’ (2015), which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, a group of single outcasts are sent to a seaside resort, which they call ‘The Hotel’ and are given 45 days to find a partner (with the option of gaining time by hunting other singles) before being turned into an animal of their choice.
The viewer is introduced to the guests or ‘candidates’as a bunch of losers who are all summed up by a single characteristic: the conformist ‘limping man’(Ben Whishaw), the hopeless guy with the lisp (John C. Reilly), the desperate ‘biscuit lady’ (Ashley Jensen), the shallow girl with the nosebleed (Jessica Barden), the ‘heartless’ woman (Angeliki Papoulia) and the narcissistic blonde.
The main character, middle-aged, overweight architect, David (Colin Farell) who was recently dumped by his wife, finds himself at the hotel in desperate search of a mate, accompanied by his unfortunate brother who “didn’t make it” and was transformed into a dog. After surviving a ‘bad romance’ with a psychopath, ‘brave’ David escapes into the woods where he joins a group of rebels who, unlike the hotel establishment, have vowed to remain eternally single.
In this hilarious tale, two opposing worlds, that of the ‘fascist’ hotel with compulsory mating rules and that of the wild ‘communist’ woods, with obligatory celibacy ones, share a similar totalitarianism and herd mentality.
In the pure tradition of European art house cinema, ‘The Lobster’ is full of cinematic references that are a feast for the eyes of enthusiastic cinephiles. The film’s fascination with donkeys, lobsters, eyes, razors and mutilations certainly winks at Luis Buñuel’s Andalousian Dog (1929) and Golden Age (1930)’s absurd universes. Similarly, David’s obsession with eyes, reminds us of the opening sequence of Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) which was designed by Salvador Dalí. Surrealistic also are Lanthimos’ biting humour and deranged wordplay, as small talk and encyclopaedic jargon are used to replace meaningful dialogue like in the theatre of the absurd, or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films, thus expressing the characters’ alienation as they try to bend themselves to the other’s desires.
Indeed, there is a self-reflexive quality in ‘The Lobster’, as Lanthimos pokes fun at teen dramas with their inevitable prom scene, boarding school films with their ‘proper’ headmistress, (in this case the hotel manager and her pre-formatted GPS-like voice), and their ‘disciplined’ students in navy blue uniforms, resort comedies with their infantilizing group activities and corporate team building, romantic stories focused on couple therapy, end of the world Sci-Fi sagas and survival TV series.
In the second part of the film, the hero, David, joins the revolutionary tribe devoted to singledom, explores the wild and falls in love with a woman who shares his short sightedness (Rachel Weisz), as the viewer finds himself in an unknown world much like George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Indeed, the extreme ‘feminist’ loner leader of the tribe (Léa Seydoux), who has a pet pig and a helpful chambermaid spy at the hotel (Ariane Labed), has the harshness of a dictator, while all sorts of exotic animals, that were possibly humans in their previous life, parade in the background. Lanthimos seems to mock human vices: a woman obsessed by her weight would have perhaps chosen to be reincarnated as a pink flamingo, while a vain one would choose the peacock and the numerous rabbits, famous for their fertility, could have been frustrated men in another life.
All in all, there seem to be two lobsters in this story: a Greek lobster, that, paired with the yacht vacation (perhaps in Mykonos), is probably the most desired luxury to indulge in, and, David, the protagonist, who will more likely than not, end up “boiling in a kettle” as a lobster. Unlike romantic Hollywood tales or cheesy soap operas where the blind character miraculously regains his/her sight and ‘love conquers all’, David won’t survive this blind date. A brilliant, illuminating film, indeed.
(Film images, Courtesy of Faliro House Productions S.A. and PREMIER Comms)