However much is wrong with American capitalism, it could be worse. Just look at Greece, where mismanagement has led to mass unemployment, falling income, and crushing debt. Out of the hopelessness and misery has sprung a great flowering of Greek cinema, responding to the crisis with deadpan absurdist comedy. Foremost among these new filmmakers is Yorgos Lanthimos, whose Dogtooth was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, a shocking recognition for such an odd film with unsimulated sex between the actors. His latest movie, The Lobster, is his first ever in English, and it expands into Tarrant County’s theaters this week.
Colin Farrell plays David, a bespectacled middle-aged man who’s suddenly made single when his wife leaves him for another man. His initial reaction to this is to tearfully ask his wife, “Does he wear glasses or contact lenses?” He’s promptly relocated to a nice seaside resort hotel, where he’s stripped of his personal belongings and given 45 days to find another romantic partner or be turned permanently into an animal. He chooses to be made into a lobster.
Half the fun is deciphering the rituals that define this weird, weird world. Nobody in Lanthimos’ movies is ever happy or angry or even mildly surprised. They all just walk around in the same narcotized sadness, stopping every once in a while to blurt out random facts about the weight of human brains or which muscles get exercised while swimming breaststroke. The characters in Wes Anderson’s movies seem positively manic by comparison. The single people in this film run loose in the forest outside the hotel, and the guests are encouraged to go out there and shoot them with tranquilizer guns, bringing their bodies back to the hotel. When two of the guests decide to get together as a couple, the hotel manager (Olivia Colman) holds a public ceremony for them and informs them, “If you encounter any problems that you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps.”
Eventually, David escapes into the woods and finds shelter with the singles, called the Loners here. They’re planning reprisals against the hotel, but they’re hardly free. They have their own set of repressive rules barring romantic or sexual relationships of any kind, and when their leader (Léa Seydoux) gets into a knife fight, she has no qualms about using one of her followers as a human shield. Pondering one gruesome punishment for rulebreakers, one of the Loners (Rachel Weisz), who also serves as the movie’s narrator, robotically says, “Oh my God, I’m so afraid of it!” Maybe that’s why David falls in love with her.
Beyond the slapstick there’s some commentary here about how society pressures single people to pair up, and the tendency among both singles and couples to think that their own way of living is superior to the other. One guest with a limp (Ben Whishaw) looks only for women who also limp, and when he fails in his quest, he bashes his face against a desk to fake spontaneous nosebleeds and make one young woman who suffers from nosebleeds fall in love with him (Jessica Barden). I’m not sure that this adds up to a sustained critique of marriage-based society, but Lanthimos does find a certain touching pathos in David and the narrator, with their devotion to each other leading them to stage their own quiet rebellion even at the cost of being maimed.
Even if this doesn’t work for you, you can still appreciate the director’s ability to conjure striking, spartan visuals as well as background gags like the conversations in the forest with camels and peacocks (no doubt former hotel guests) wandering through the frame. In the end, Lanthimos’ mix of despair and knockabout comedy reminds you of nothing so much as Samuel Beckett’s plays. This will not be to everyone’s taste, to be sure, but The Lobster conveys its maker’s creative vision unfiltered by the need to please Anglophone tastes in entertainment. It’s remorseless and pure and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and it’s now playing near you if you’re adventurous enough to take the plunge.
Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. Rated R.[/box_info]