The Lobster | Review
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Colin Farrell as David
Rachel Weisz as Short Sighted Woman
Jaro and Ryac as Bob the dog (David’s Brother)
Ariane Labed as The Maid
Léa Seydoux as Loner Leader
Angeliki Papoulia as Heartless Woman
John C. Reilly as Lisping Man (Robert)
Ben Whishaw as Limping Man (John)
Jessica Barden as Nosebleed Woman
Olivia Colman as Hotel Manager
Ashley Jensen as Biscuit Woman
Michael Smiley as Loner Swimmer
Ewen MacIntosh as Hotel Guard
Genre: Absurdist | Black-Comedy | Drama (Psychodrama)
| Dystopian-Fantasy | Romance
Rated [R] for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence.
Country: Ireland | Netherlands | UK | France | Greece
In-Film Language: English | French
Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Budget: $4,400,000 [US] (rough estimate)
Studios | Production: A24, Film4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann (The Irish Film Board), Eurimages, Nederlands Fonds voor de Film (The Netherlands Film Fund), Greek Film Centre and BFI (British Film Institute); Protagonist Pictures; Element Pictures, Scarlet Films, Faliro House, Haut et Court, Lemming Film; Limp; Canal+ and Ciné+; Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, Centre National du Cinéma et de I’image Animée (CNC), Ministère des Affaires étrangères et du Développement International and Institut Français. LionsGate.
A sardonic take on
By J.R. Stayer
Oct. 23, 2016
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos‘ inaugural English language film, “The Lobster,” took home the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Cinephiles such as myself were elated Lanthimos made the shift from his strictly Greek collaborations and gifted “The Lobster,” as well as his entire filmography to Western audiences. Hopefully, this relationship is consummated with 2017’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” Lanthimos’ fifth upcoming film (full directing credit) — which is said to be filmed in Cincinnati, Ohio, US.
Lanthimos’ films, although eccentric and off-color, are reflective commentaries of the culture in which they ridicule.
In his first film, “Kinetta” (2005), Lanthimos took viewers to a decrepit resort where a damaged troika ritualistically re-stages a femicidal serial killer’s crime scenes. “Kinetta’s” characters are distant, taciturn and seem to sleepwalk through a world encumbered by boredom, yet full of human idiosyncrasies. “Kinetta” is Lanthimos’ exposé on fleeting affections and the omnipresence of human loneliness.
Then Lanthimos gave us the Academy-Award nominated “Dogtooth” (2009), a film where parents confine their three adolescent children to an induced and edited world of isolation. With this, Lanthimos creates a bitter critique of homeschooling and excessive (puritanical) parenting, typical of the cultish religious.
His third original film, “Alps” (2012), was released with some praise, but had not reached the cult status of its predecessor “Dogtooth.” The film follows a small group of counselors called the Alps, each member named after a mountain. The Alps are hired to stand in for the deceased loved ones of the bereaved, role-playing as the departed. “Alps” takes viewers on a journey of emotional identity and again critiques human idiosyncrasy, but more so in the way in which we respond to others’ eccentricities.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ imaginative films critique society and serve to parallel our world by setting it against the eerily, yet moderately surreal backdrops he creates. He does this by taking our true realities, embellishing them and then pushing us to confront them.
In Lanthimos’ latest film, “The Lobster” (2015), he has us confronting modern love.
[Plot Summary] The film’s protagonist, David (Colin Farrell), is a man who gets dumped by his wife of 11 years and one month of marriage, for another man who is even more near-sighted than himself. David lives in a society where people must fall in love with someone who has a similar ‘defining characteristic.’ Additionally, this dystopia is set up to turn those who are single into an animal of their choosing, before being released back into nature. This is accomplished at a mysterious hotel where guests have only 45 days to find true love, or just a match. The guests are also sent out with tranquilizer guns to hunt for a faction of single people called ‘The Loners,’ and each gathered Loner gives you an extra day’s stay at The Hotel. This is where David reports to in his search for a new mate. He tries to find a compatible defining characteristic with some of The Hotel’s other patrons before settling down with the ‘Heartless Woman,’ the women’s record holder for hunting Loners. This match doesn’t go so well and David finds himself escaping The Hotel and joining up with The Loners. He finds the group isn’t just a ragtag bunch of “singles,” they’re a rebel group that rejects romance completely. This is where David meets ‘The Short Sighted Woman’ (Rachel Weisz). The two have the same defining characteristic and fall for one another, but not without living in fear of The Hotel, The Loners and the society in which they live.
At a glance, “The Lobster” gives us a fanciful world where people are given a very interspecies chance at second-love. Though by looking deeper, the criticism Lanthimos makes is one of complete tonal mastery — which is needed when creating an ocular reflection of online dating and a ‘Which animal are you?’ mobile app.
For this world, Lanthimos wrote characters that are terrifically robotic. This is crucial to his critique, as their overall demeanor is supposed to reflect the impersonal nature of modern (online) dating. The dialogue is deadpan, including the offscreen narration by Rachel Weisz.
Example of Narration:
(Rachel Weisz as Short Sighted Woman – O.S.) “We’ve developed a code so that we can communicate with each other even in front of the others without them knowing what we are saying. When we turn our heads to the left it means ‘I love you more than anything in the world,’ and when we turn our heads to the right it means ‘Watch out, we’re in danger.’ We had to be very careful in the beginning not to mix up ‘I love you more than anything in the world’ with ‘watch out, we’re in danger.’ When we raise our left arm it means ‘I want to dance in your arms,’ when we make a fist and put it behind our backs it means ‘Let’s fuck.’ The code grew and grew as time went by and within a few weeks we could talk about almost anything without even opening our mouths.”
Examples of Dialogue:
Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux): “Where were you? I was looking for you.”
David (Colin Farrell): “I was masturbating behind those trees over there.”
Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman): “If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children, that usually helps.”
Trainer Waiter: [On shooting-range] “It’s no coincidence that the targets are shaped like single people and not couples.”
This choice of monotone dialogue creates a world where people are blunt, often state their emotions aloud and each interaction appears painfully awkward, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a perfect dehumanization allowing for the satire to be obvious yet remain fanciful. All the characters therefore appear flat, but they’re just singularly focused. When they’re not in love, they yearn for it — acting as avatars in the “real world” and living in fear of loneliness. It would seem while in love they simply survive, but still live with a sense of fear or dread — the fear of someone better coming along to take their spouse away.
The most evident critique of modern dating is how the characters choose someone based on a defining characteristic. It’s a real world manifestation of online dating. Much like OkCupid and Tinder, you choose a person based on a common factor. Say for instance you meet someone who has ‘Acute Dry Skin,’ since you both share that ‘defining characteristic,’ that person would be safe for you. In the world of “The Lobster,” people want to be comfortable and have their ideals shared, they don’t want to be challenged, but this creates a very anxious society.
The most unnerving aspect is not the exaggerated critique of modern love, it’s how no matter what the characters desire, or how they live their lives, they’re still confined to the ideological structure of their society. Even Loners follow their own rules and all seem destined to live life in fear. Lanthimos’ film allows for and even quietly calls for debate, and creates a timeless social critique that can be applied inter-generationally, though it remains most poignant today (2010s).
Lanthimos’ thematic content is not muted, though it’s not fully explored and I must say that was the right move. It would be impossible to frame his concept any larger than the picture he gave us of “The Lobster’s” world. In the film he briefly touches on bisexuality by offering up, “This option is no longer available… due to several operational problems.” Therefore, Dave’s interview at The Hotel does raise a few questions about how human sexuality in this world works and also, how the overall society is structured.
For instance, we know there’re officers who question citizens that appear to be alone, and because of how this is approached in the film, we know single people must live entirely in nature and not in The City (but, are they all Loners?).
The reason Lanthimos allows his film to raise questions and not answer them all entirely, is because if he had… he would have created plot holes. This ultimately leads to telling and not showing during a few pivotal points of the film, thus making speculation in “The Lobster” healthy.
The film’s cinematography captures its world with both extensive wide-angle and concentrated shots, transitioning between closed indoor spaces and wide-open vistas. The film’s setting is a breathtaking Ireland thats green color is caught in its woods, its open areas suppressed with a sort of sepia-esque shroud — with every shot saturated in a blue-grey haze.
Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis worked with Lanthimos to create a truly romantic, yet altogether forlorn dystopian atmosphere. They made this film appear like a magical-realism painting. It’s an illustration of humanity’s sexuality suffering at the hands of modern society. A dreamscape in which the once human animals in nature contrast their human counterparts in The City, and both continue suffering at each other’s hands.
The sets, the decorations, the costumes, the makeup… everything in this film works to create a perennial feel. The Hotel and its employees look timeless. The maids dress in modest French maid uniforms and the waiters are uniformed in dress shirts and vests adorned with large gold name-tags. What are assumed to be the metamorphosis scientists wear all white lab coats in a classic 1950s styling. The rest of The Hotel’s patrons are all given indistinguishable clothes by The Hotel. All of the men dress in similar classic suits, tweed jackets, dress shirts and sweaters; the women are all dressed in matching floral dresses and matching heels. The Hotel itself, The Parknasilla Resort and Spa (the actual location), is a late 1800s hotel that appears fixed in time with its decor.
Even the film’s soundtrack is enduring. Music such as ‘Anonymous Romance’ (Romance Anónimo) which is a 19th century piece of music that’s written, well, anonymously, enters the film as part of its narration. Nick Cave’s “Where the Wild Roses Grow” is sung in the woods by Colin Farrell — playing out almost like a lullaby, making it impossible to know how old the song really is. Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook’s “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” is performed by Olivia Coleman and Garry Mountaine and it takes on an operatic tone — which I must say is quite the earworm.
However, the greatest component to “The Lobster” are its actors. Colin Farrell’s acting is clean and streamlined, no more than what’s needed is given by the actor. It’s as if he had gained more than just body weight to create a character as apathetic and short on words as Dave. Like everyone else in the film, Farrell’s voice is monotone and he speaks his lines sharply. He also does well to insert a few moans to make Dave’s actions feel weighted. Likewise, Rachel Weisz plays her character, The Short Sighted Woman, unlike anything we’ve seen from her since her role in “The Constant Gardener.” The way Weisz approached some of the film’s darker lines of dialogue allowed for humor during even the most bleak points of the film. When it comes to John C. Reilly, what can I say? I find Reilly absolutely refreshing every time he’s in a more serious film, he should be as known for his indie films as he is for his comedic roles.
Now, a lot of directors choose to work with actors and actresses they have built rapport with and Lanthimos is no different. He chose to work with Angeliki Papoulia (The Heartless Woman) on “Dogtooth,” “Alps” and now “The Lobster.” It’s evident from Papoulia’s abilities that she can play characters in Lanthimos’ worlds, as well as that of Greek New Wave cinema. I would like to see more of her outside of the international circuit. Additionally, Ariane Labed, who plays The Maid in “The Lobster,” got her start in “Attenberg” which was produced by Lanthimos and made it into his film “Alps.” Labed is also Lanthimos’ spouse and I know how that sounds… but he probably fell in love with her acting ability (and her looks). You can see Labed in Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” the third in his “Before” trilogy, in the phenomenal “Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey” and she will be in her first big budget film “Assassin’s Creed,” slated for release Dec., 2016.
“The Lobster” is a modern film with classic sensibilities and is a masterwork of satire from an expert of exposing the human condition. What makes a film that criticizes society perfect, is when the critique doesn’t undermine its narrative. Without knowing what you’re watching is satire, it’s still a great film — though recognizing its critique allows the film to reach a level of near perfection.
However, the film’s ending is a wee bit inexcusable. Now, I’ve read a number of reviews too and most feel its close is refreshing in the time of cinematic happy endings. But it doesn’t really have a happy or a sad ending, it simply doesn’t end. The audience receives no closure, which believe it or not, is a way to effectively end a movie or show (“The Sopranos”). But, given how fantastic the rest of the film is, I want to hold Lanthimos’ feet to the flame for not being able to finish what he started.
Looking at this film as just a snapshot of the dystopia Lanthimos created, it works. Otherwise, I want to know if the characters’ rejection of both modern love and no love resolves the film’s critique of both. Until there is a more definitive answer, it would seem as though Lanthimos doesn’t know how to end the film.
(WRI): 07.00 / 10.00
(DIR³): 09.25 / 10.00
(CPD): 09.25 / 10.00
(ACT): 08.75 / 10.00
(SEM): 09.00 / 10.00
(FED): 09.00 / 10.00
52.25 / 60.00 (.8708)
Grade: 8.71 / A
The order of my reviews in the categories of Contemporary Films, Classic Films and Short Films will always be in the order of: Writing (WRI), Director/ Directing/ Direction (DIR³), Cinematography and Production Design (CPD), Acting (ACT), Sound Editing and Mixing (SEM) and lastly, Film Editing (FED). This is, for me, in order of most to least importance. To fully understand the process, go to the ‘Film Class’ section of IFB. There you will find a roughly 3,500 word description of my review criteria.
The first image is a poster for The Lobster, found on Amazon. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist of the film. © 2010-2016 Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.
The Lobster © A24; © Channel Four Television Corporation 2016 (Film4);
© 2016 Bord Scannán na hÉireann
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