Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos (2016)
Yorgos Lanthimos has established himself as a director who has no qualms about taking risks with his films, presenting his visual narratives in increasingly masochistic ways. His breakout 2009 film, Dogtooth, tells the story of a father who chooses to isolate his children from society, but is underscored by such a profound bleakness that the film feels profane and wrong. And addicting to watch. Lanthimos presents as a distant cousin to Lars von Trier in that regard, for his films convey desolation and absurdity in an interesting, poetic fashion. Whereas von Trier's films are ultimately about moods and emotions, Lanthimos's ambitions remain more sociocultural in focus, as Dogtooth functioned mainly as a worst-case scenario of raising a family.
Enter The Lobster, a film starring Colin Farrell as a sad sack who enrolls in a program at a hotel that helps single people find their new romantic partner. This program has a huge caveat: if the individual fails to find a romantic partner within forty five days of enrolling, that individual's body is transformed into an animal of their own choosing, with that same individual's consciousness seamlessly transferred to the animal in question.
The premise to the film is absurd, but pointedly so, for The Lobster ultimately provides Lanthimos further visual ammunition to launch an assault on modern relationship culture. Without giving away crucial details, the film makes an effort to point out specific flaws in the superficial ideas that many people confuse with pure romantic relationships, such as the matching of a couple based simply upon an inconvenient physical trait (their noses bleed consistently throughout each day). One character has an epiphany that "it's easier to fake feelings you don't have than to fake not having feelings you do have," and he purposely matches himself with the complete wrong person to avoid his animal fate. There's even a line of dialogue about assigning fighting couples children to quell their distress, which got a lot of laughs from my audience.
The film's composition tends to reinforce its divide between absurdity and pragmatism, as the soundtrack in particular adds tension to the visuals. For the most part, the music of the film is played on dissonant, eery violin, and the instrument intentionally arrives at increasingly inappropriate moments in the film. While initially jarring, the effect the score gives the visuals is one of paranoia, which only furthers the sense of unease within the viewer's psyche. Even when the events that unfold on the screen are hilarious, the score forces the viewer to remain aware that each laugh earned should be met with simultaneous discomfort, for Lanthimos ultimately means to make grander points with a sort of unflinching dark humor.
Despite its strong horror and dark comedy elements, The Lobster has a consistent undercurrent of sweetness and empathy, particularly with regard to Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz's characters. Whereas the first half of the film depicts potential wrong choices in modern relationships with its supporting characters, the film ultimately establishes a "correct" path, and the viewer journeys with Colin Farrell down Lanthimos's designated yellow brick road to fulfillment. The film takes a surprising turn towards this destination at the halfway point, whereupon the film shifts towards satirizing single life in contrast to life with a romantic partner.
Though the individual parts of the film are an ambitious societal critique, its whole addresses the inherent conflict between the structure and order of life in relationships and the freedom and chaos of life as a single person. The film doesn't condemn one lifestyle and praise another; rather, it is content to show the flaws inherent within both. Lanthimos's style of mixing humor with the discomfort, the macabre with the comedy cast it in sharp relief. As a valiant arthouse effort, The Lobster not only works as a great edition to Lanthimos's filmography, but as an endearing tale of the haves and have nots of relationships.