After the critical and commercial failure of American Ultra, which he penned, Max Landis went on a mini rant about the current movie landscape. He questioned the desire of studios and audiences for original films in a time of billion dollar reboots, sequels, biopics and superhero stories, asking “are original ideas over?” Landis definitely has a point about films right now, and looking at the sheer number of production companies, film boards, and individuals named on the end credits of Yanos Lanthimos’ The Lobster you can see the difficulty in getting an original film like this financed.
Landis goes too far in calling his script original, and he needs to look at The Lobster to see what a unique film can really be. It’s the kind of work that needs to be championed and hopefully it gets the success it deserves. This is the first English language film from Lanthimos, the director of the wonderfully strange, oddly funny, and gripping Dogtooth. All those adjectives can again be applied to The Lobster. What a odd pitch it must have been, even from this Oscar nominee and Prix Un Certain Regard winner. Without giving too much away, set in a dystopian society that seems pretty contemporary to our own, Colin Farrell stars as David, a middle-aged man whose marriage suddenly breaks down. Alone for the first time in his life he must now comply with the law and go to a remote hotel to find a new mate within 45 days, or he’ll be turned into an animal and released into the woods.
Lanthimos brings his own story and vision to the screen in a confident manner, and it’s refreshing to see an ‘out-there’ film able to attract big name stars. While Farrell’s choices have in no way always been perfect, the interesting thing about his career has been his willingness to take chances and, critically, always give it everything he’s got no matter the quality of the material. This was most obvious in the latest season of True Detective, when he was given little more than clichés and bad dialogue. But he was captivating throughout the series, able to give a depth and deep sadness to the role that clearly wasn’t there on the page. Here in The Lobster he again dips into that well of sadness and confusion behind those puppy dog eyes, but also exercises his excellent comedic powers (which he really should use more, like he did to brilliant effect in In Bruges).
This vein of comedy runs through the film, with the bizarre storyline and cast of odd characters running alongside some more serious satire on the nature of human relationships. At the hotel Farrell is surrounded by a cast of excellent actors playing strange people – Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaurus), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights), Ashley Jensen (Extras) and Angeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth) all feature. The later introduction of Lea Seydoux (Blue Is The Warmest Colour) and Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) means the cast is brimming with talent.
The innocent, unguarded dialogue of the characters (almost like those of a sheltered child and so another nod to Lanthimos’ previous film), and the fact that the hotel has the feeling of a corporate retreat, all add to the comedy. But there’s also a feeling of threat, fear, and sadness beside this. The choice of jolting and operatic music, and the use of fixed shots where things come in and out of frame (or characters are cut off or out of shot) gives the film an almost thriller-like atmosphere. Lanthimos isn’t afraid to give characters and scenery (beautiful Irish lakes, mountains and forests, at once both lonely and romantic) space and time to breath. There’s no excessive cutting and editing even in moments of action, and Lanthimos, as he demonstrated so well in Dogtooth, is a director in complete command of his visuals and performances. Some bits of the film are hard to watch but you can’t take your eyes away. The story twists and turns, nudging us to think this way about coupledom, that way about the benefits of solitude, to question which group – the loners or those in pairs – are better off, from something that laughs at the absurdity of a world that places such a great emphasis on relationships to an ultimately tender love story. The Lobster is sad, dark, funny, moving, and unexpected. There is space for original work in film right now; we just have to make sure we recognise it and support it when we find it.
The Lobster is in selected cinemas from 22nd October through Sony Pictures.