Dark, oddball films have an extremely niche audience, which is why it's incredibly rare to find such features coming from Hollywood. Often times, they're from other countries and are either hidden in the Foreign Language category at the Oscars, or excluded from the spotlight altogether. If you're familiar with writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou's Dogtooth, then you know just how weird it can get. The team has come back to deliver another dose of oddness in a world that feels more rooted in fantasy than reality. Of course, I'm talking about Cannes Film Festival's Jury Prize winner The Lobster. It's every bit as strange and unpredictable as it sounds, although it could have benefited from having about fifteen minutes shaved off of its conclusion.
In a dystopian future, David (Colin Farrell) finds himself taken to The Hotel under the laws of The City. Along with numerous other single individuals, he must find a romantic partner in forty-five days, or he will be transformed into an animal and sent out into The Woods. While participants are given the option of what animal they would like to become, it's a fate that many fear and are willing to do anything in order to avoid.
Similar to many other dystopian stories, The Lobster faces the difficult task of establishing the world and its characters. It should feel like a living and breathing place, rather than a portrait of what could be. Lanthimos and Filippou's screenplay does an excellent job bringing us into this insane future that has transformed our societal norms into something much a bit shocking. The first half of the film takes us from meeting to meeting within The Hotel, which tells us the rules of this world. They are incredibly strict and unforgiving, all of which are motivated by the idea of companionship. The Lobster greatly explores sexuality, as it remains to be viewed in a binary fashion rather than the fluid system that it is. When David is questioned about his sexuality before entering The Hotel, he requests to be listed as "bisexual," but is told that "heterosexual" and "homosexual" are the only two viable options. Lanthimos and Filippou insert many of these subtle elements into the film that inform the audience of how this society views modern issues.
This first portion of the film utilizes a large amount of dark comedy. The subject matter is always quite heavy, but it's well-complemented with Lanthimos and Filippou's strong sense of humor. There are a lot of good laughs to be had here, especially during the sequences within The Hotel. The exercises and couple interactions are strange and often hilarious. When a new-found friend of David finds a possible companion who constantly receives nosebleeds, he bashes his head into objects to receive similar nosebleeds to establish a shared attribute. The humor is absurdly well-placed and topical. Those who have seen Dogtooth know that these filmmakers aren't afraid to push the envelope, which continues to be put on display in The Lobster. However, at the half-way point, the tone takes a turn for a style that is much more bleak. Audiences will either go along for the ride, or the transition will feel out of place.
The third act initially had me invested, although it continued to lose me little by little as it approached its conclusion. After forcing a relationship that was doomed from the start, he decides to escape The Hotel. He finds himself with a group identified as "loners." They're just as conservative, but on the other side of the coin. Acting against the law, they don't believe in companionship. Severe punishments are given for those who break the rules, making both sides feel strikingly similar to cults. This third act drops much of the humor and replaces it with a romance that doesn't feel entirely convincing. It drags on for a bit too long for a conclusion that is ambiguous for all of the wrong reasons. It doesn't necessarily go against the overall tonal arc that was developed, but it could have been told in a more clear and concise fashion.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos once again proves that he knows how to bring a screenplay to life. The Lobster takes some truly breath-taking environments and transforms them into a bleak and lifeless world that compliments the plot. The Hotel takes place in an incredibly romantic, secluded location, while The City is modern and sleek. Lanthimos drained much of the color out of the picture. The lush locations instantly turn into haunting places that feel futuristic, but exhausted. Rather than utilizing recognizable music, Lanthimos plays an intense original score that is fittingly loud. Almost everything about The Lobster is "in your face," so it would only make sense that it would be accompanied by a pushy score. It certainly makes the viewer aware that you're listening to a film score, but I'm fairly confident that Lanthimos wanted nothing less.
To writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou's credit, The Lobster left me wanting to watch it again in the future to pick out some of the more subtle character nuances hidden amongst the loud chaos of everything else around it. This is another strong credit for this writing duo to add to their growing resumé, especially when considering the first one-third of the film's running time. The screenplay does such a wonderful job introducing the audience to this dystopian world, that we want to continue exploring The Hotel for a bit longer, rather than the universe of "the loners," which isn't nearly as absorbing. Nevertheless, this is a film worthy of its Cannes Film Festival-winning status. The Lobster is this year's great oddball film for those looking for a dose of the bizarre. Highly recommended!
The Lobster will be playing at AFI FEST 2015 presented by Audi on November 6th and November 10th.