Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Lobster (4 Stars)


The premise of this film is so ridiculous that it makes the film seem like one big joke. I've never sat in a cinema where the audience was laughing so loud, for the first half of the film at least. As the film progressed the laughter lessened. I went to see the film with seven other members of the Birmingham Film Group. We were unanimous about enjoying the first half of the film, but our opinions were divided on the second half.

The change in tone from the first to the second half is deliberate. This raises the question whether the film is intended to be seen as a comedy at all. Most reviewers call the film a black comedy. I prefer to call it a satire.

The film takes place in England in the near future. It has been declared illegal for people to be single. This is vigorously enforced. Anybody seen loitering in a public place by himself is challenged by the police to produce proof that he has a partner. But what happens to those who are single? They're sent to a hotel with other singles, where they have a chance to form a partnership. They have 45 days to find a partner, and if they don't succeed within this time they're transformed into an animal of their own choosing. The hero of the film is David, played by Colin Farrell, who has just been divorced from his wife after 12 years of marriage. On admission into the hotel he states that if he remains single he wishes to become a lobster.

There are those who reject the government's enforcement of partnerships. They call themselves loners. They run away from the city and hide in the woods. The loners follow the opposite path: they forbid relationships, and they severely punish those among themselves who form relationships, for instance by cutting off the lips of those who kiss. The loners are the enemies of the accepted society and have to be suppressed. The people in the hotel are given tranquilliser guns sent into the woods to hunt for loners. Captured loners are immediately turned into animals without being given a choice. Those who capture them are rewarded with an extra day before they have to find a partner.

Chatting up potential partners in the hotel is very strained. All the men were the same suits, and all the women wear the same flower dresses. No individuality is allowed. People search for partners by looking for someone with whom they have something in common. For instance, two people with a limp, two people with a speech impediment, two people with a nosebleed.


The director Yorgos Lanthimos is making fun of different things. Obviously he's satirising mating rituals. Men and women are awkward in their attempts to make contact with one another. The preferred pairing of two likes is very much like the algorithms of online dating sites that assume people will be happiest with someone like themselves. The film is also a satire of political conflict. The government of the future has chosen the extreme policy of enforcing relationships, so the rebels decide to do the exact opposite. There's no common sense middle path.

The film has been almost universally praised by critics, including receiving three awards at the 2015 Cannes Festival. It's a fascinating film that deserves to be watched and discussed.

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