A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The world of The Lobster exists within the dangerous confines of binary systems. Binary systems are inherently divisive and while that specific word has become thoroughly monotonous this year, there is nevertheless a point to be made from it. A binary system, as the phrase’s etymology would note, separates whatever it is targeting into two distinct spheres. Each side is granted the societal definition of right and wrong and one ostensibly always has to be on the side of the right in order to, well, be right. No one, at least theoretically, wants to be wrong. Who decides what is right and wrong is often not a part of the conversation. It just is. There’s no space for a truly intelligent conversation because there’s always that risk of running afoul of the binary system that severely punishes individuals who push back against its boundaries in any way. The more severe the punishment, the less likelihood that there will be some sort of rebellion There isn’t any option for existing in the gray because you have to either exist in the black or the white. There’s simply no room for nuance at all.
There are certain issues which one could concisely argue whose debates really are obvious and stark. But to extend that delineation to every issue and facet of human existence seems at best to be resoundingly cruel. You are not allowed to be bisexual, which somehow is something that can be “regulated.” You cannot enjoy a game of tennis because that is only available as sport for couples (I guess there’s no such thing as a singles’s match in this universe). You cannot have periods of strife in your relationship because then you run the risk of being alone and being alone is wrong. Being alone means that there is a forty-five day clock on your entire existence. You must conform or you no longer exist. A binary system is an inescapable prison by design. It, after all, keeps the designers of such a system in places of power.
Yorgos Lanthimos arrived on the international stage with his stunning Greek drama Dogtooth, a film that went on to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. In that film, Lanthimos was able to create a sense of claustrophobia and eeriness in the most innocuous of settings to tremendous effect. It served the story superbly and he manages to outdo himself with The Lobster, especially the film’s first half. The first half of the film is concerned in large part with a hotel where all of the now unfortunately single people are residing along with those who are awaiting the month-long examination of sorts to ensure that their relationship is indeed soluble. The hotel itself is thusly a binary, even splitting services between those who have found themselves a match and avoided the fate that lay ahead of them and those who have yet to do so. It reinforces the oppressive system under the guise of societal decorum and expectation, a veneer of etiquette that is slowly broken apart bit by bit by bit. It’s broken when a man who was masturbating has his hand roasted in a toaster. It’s broken when there is a demonstration of how much better it is for a woman to walk with a man no matter where and when than it is for her to walk alone because then she is simply rendered to screaming at the top of her voice. It’s broken when the hotel maids’s job description is revealed to include arousing the male guests’s genitalia on a regular basis and tracking the progress of their arousal times.
The hotel’s hunt, perhaps the most blunt instrument of metaphorical usage displayed in the film, at first has shades of The Hunger Games. All of the loners are traipsed steadily into the first with tranquilizer guns and the more “loners” a loner catches, the more days they garner to stay in the hotel and thus hopefully revive their forlorn love lives. The entire construction patently ignores that it simply isn’t possible for everyone to fall in love within forty-five days of the ending of a relationship nor is there any sympathy for the widowers who are so cruelly forced to cut short their time of grieving and try to revive those feelings once more in desperation. The authenticity and germaneness of human emotions is driven down into a drivel of inauthentic emotional oppression.
The forest itself becomes the primary setting for the second half of the film, revealing a surprise after our protagonist David (a remarkable turn from Colin Farrell, In Bruges) flees a remarkably horrifying relationship in the hotel, taking his chances with whatever lies outside that horrid building. The forest in The Lobster is filmed to be as oppressive and cloistered, the might of the trees bearing down on all of the loners that escaped the hotel’s misery. What within the first few seconds feels like a sharp turn into a rebellion territory quickly is kept within the darkly comic, bleak universe Lanthimos has set up here. The loners have their own leader (a great, dark turn from Léa Seydoux, Blue Is the Warmest Color), this one who has created a set of rules that are the opposite of what society has created but are in a real sense just as oppressive. Here the idea of becoming a couple or even daring to flirt with another individual is to buy into the oppression of society, a clear violation of the tenants under which this odd sort of Forest Resistance was crafted. Humans, Lanthimos seems to argue here, have this ridiculous desire to craft social structures and hierarchies even in places where they ought to be the last thing imagined, let alone crafted and fortified.
The city becomes a merging of the binary system, a place where people can find stability and solidarity but only if they exist within the construction of being a couple. The framing device of austere claustrophobia is employed excellently within the city, couples crammed into the aisles of a department store that seem to be remarkably close to simply collapsing onto their entire bodies and crushing them into the floor (you know this feeling if you, like me, go to a grocery store and forget that it’s the morning of the Super Bowl). The cramming, however, is significantly more welcome than to the opposing structure of being caught wandering around the mall on your own, a perfectly natural pastime if you want to go grab a pizza pretzel on your way to the bookstore because you feel like it. Officers will accost you and ask for documentation, impressing upon you the futility and danger of being an individual, of being your own self. That a totalitarian and or dystopian regime’s greatest fear is the empowerment of the individual is a nice, underlying theme that the film never forces as much the State enforces this social paradigm. The home of the resistance leader’s parents seems to be as equally forced in terms of space and individuality, the heavy weight of the frankly average music serving as an instrument of delineation in its own right.
David naturally has the unfortunate turn of fate of falling in love in precisely the wrong circumstances with a lovely, sort-sighted woman who is sharp and ubiquitous with wit (a terrific Rachel Weisz, The Bourne Legacy). That sets in motion the terrific, bleak, and unforgiving climax that is nevertheless imbued with a significant amount of warm, emotional heft so as to never make the proceedings feel as cold as the world at large feels in this film. The music is stirring, the cinematography is stunning, and all of the performances take the bizarre absurdity of their circumstances with just enough heft as to feel believable but never forced or too self-serious. The crowning achievement, however, is the script’s (written by Efthymis Filippou and Lanthimos) ability to understand the complexities and nuances of the human emotional structure. There’s a keen reality on display in The Lobster where, out of desperation of not wanting to be turned into an animal, people foster forced emotions they carry with them for the rest of their lives for fear that they will be forced to make another fateful trip to that horrid hotel. Their emotional heft becomes a tool in the hands of this unnamed State to force its citizens to constantly latch onto each other for their very existence, allowing for the apparatus of the State to continue building without anyone batting, or stabbing, an eye.
Title: The Lobster
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Produced by: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday
Written by: Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw
Music by: Johnnie Burn
Cinematography by: Thimios Bakatakis
Edited by: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Production Company(s): Element Pictures, Scarlet Films, Faliro House Productions, Haut et Court, Lemming Film, Film4 Productions
Distributed by: Feelgood Entertainment (Greece), Haut et Court (France), Element Pictures (Ireland), De Filmfreak (Netherlands), Picturehouse Entertainment (UK)
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Dates: 15 May 2015 (Cannes)
Image Courtesy: Los Angeles Times
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