The Lobster Review
Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Rosanna Hoult, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Ewen MacIntosh, Imelda Nagle Ryan, Angeliki Papoulia, Michael Smiley.
The Lobster is a dystopian science fiction black comedy that is so reminiscent of Franz Kafka, that at first glance it’s hard to believe that this film wasn’t written and directed by Franz Kafka. But seeing as Kafka has been dead since 1924, I’ll accept that this is, in fact, the third feature film written and directed by Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos, and his first in the English language. Lanthimos distinctly specializes in dystopian satires about highly regulated societies that seem to exist on the fringes of our present. His first film, Dogtooth (2010), was about a middle-class couple raising children according to an extreme set of rules. In Alps (2012), followers of a cult impersonated the newly dead for the benefit of the grieving. The Lobster is about a not-too-distant future in which all single people are removed from The City and brought to The Hotel, an establishment that is at once grand and old-fashioned, and completely cheesy, where they can stay for 45 days. They are expected to find a romantic life partner in this time period, and if they do not, they are transfigured into animals and banished.
If my description of The Lobster makes it sound ridiculous—insane, even— well, good. Because it is. I should also probably get this out of the way: I think this film is a masterpiece. One of the best of the year for sure.
I would advise anyone with an interest in cinematic innovation to see this movie, and to see it with an audience. This film is riotously funny; I haven’t laughed so hard all year. Also, The Lobster is oppressively, relentlessly bleak and grim. Lanthimos, a true visionary, has a style that is all his own. This is satirical, even farcical, and at the same time, Lanthimos is sending a message that is deeply damning of people. His ideas are sharp and hilarious, and he executes them in a way that is often straight-up punishing to watch. For instance, one scene sees a guest at the hotel (an excellent John C. Reilly), caught masturbating by the authorities. Masturbation is strictly forbidden at the hotel, and the punishment for doing so is having your hand placed in a toaster. Funny, right? Yes, it’s very funny. Then we get a long, excruciating scene of the authorities placing his hand in a toaster, burning him graphically. Not so funny. Uniquely compelling, though.
At risk of understatement, Lanthimos appears to have discovered a new kind of storytelling. I haven’t seen a film this wildly original since Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin in 2014. Glazer’s film was impossible to pin down. On the surface, it was an exceedingly terrifying science-fiction horror art film. Beyond that, it simply looked and felt like no other film in history, and Glazer ambitiously tackled thematic material very few artists could even dare (What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a woman?), and what’s more, the cinematic “answers” he came up with were pretty damn satisfying. I had a similar experience watching The Lobster as I did watching Skin; this movie is not like any I’ve ever seen before. It is wildly ambitious, and completely fulfilling as a work of art.
Lanthimos is also a singularly gifted director of actors. The performances in this film all seem to exist in the same confined world, somewhere between hyper-realism and filmed theater. Colin Farrell is uncommonly restrained, puny, and entirely empathetic. Rachel Weisz is luminous, perfectly cast as the one woman anyone could fall in love with in this entire hopeless, unfeeling world.
Bad films are lacking because they are not like The Lobster. This movie is representative of what I think is missing in most bad and mediocre movies: purpose, originality, and vision. Wow, is this ever a vision.
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