Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Lobster: The Cost of Coupledom

The Lobster is a movie about a world in which people are forced to be in couples. If you find yourself single, you check into The Hotel with other single people, where you have 45 days to find a partner. If you do not find anyone at the end of that time, you are turned into the animal of your choice and can live out your days in the wild. I did not think I could possibly enjoy a movie that had such a surreal premise. And then I discovered that The Lobster is one of the best movies I've seen this year.

The key surprise of this movie is how incredibly funny it is. It is a satirical demolition of society's preconceived notions of the importance of coupledom and the desperate search for a partner. As each character intones with deadpan earnestness how terrible it is to be alone, and The Hotel offers cautionary plays about the dangers of being single, it is startling to realize that while this cinematic world has gone to extremes, its central tenets echo many real-world beliefs. Colin Farrell plays the protagonist, David, a man who is forced to go to The Hotel when his wife leaves him. He is calm and quiet, tells the Hotel Manager (the always sublime Olivia Colman) that his animal of choice is a lobster, and then spends a series of wildly surreal days in The Hotel, introducing us to all the weird rules and moralities that make up this crazy world. 

My enjoyment of this movie grew as I watched the world slowly unfurl and the seemingly civilized nature of affairs devolved into complete mayhem. I won't go into any more detail, except to say that the second half of the film does concern itself with the minority, the Loners who choose to be single and are exiled to the woods, where they are subjected to their own rigid codes of conduct. Ultimately, this movie is all about mocking both extremes and David's journey lets you experience the full range of brilliance that has sprung from the fervid imagination of writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (with equal credit due to co-writer Efthymis Filippou). This is Lanthimos's first English-language film, and it seems clear I now need to seek out his prior work, no matter what language it's in.

Lest I forget, the movie's cast also includes Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, and John C. Reilly, and they're delivering some of the best deadpan comedy-drama you're likely to witness in theaters this year. I don't mean to treat this movie as a laugh riot - it does have disturbing moments of cruelty and depravity. But those are emoted with the same lack of feeling as the comic bits, which takes the edge off. Ultimately, in a world where love is mandatory rather than miraculous, it makes sense that everyone is going through life in a bit of a haze, displaying no real passion, joy, or anger. They're all just getting by, doing as they're told, and The Lobster is a marvellous dystopian tale of what happens when you try to disrupt the status quo. You will laugh, but you will also be presented with a great deal of food for thought. If nothing else, you should decide what kind of animal you'd like to be. 

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