For better or worse, The Lobster is the weirdest film of 2015
One of my pleasures as a film fan is getting to see mainstream actors take on difficult roles in strange, ‘out-there’ indie films. Yorgos Lanthimos, perhaps best known for the extreme and extremely challenging Dogtooth, makes his English language feature debut with The Lobster, the very definition of an ‘out-there’ indie film. Even though The Lobster is not a perfect film, there is something exhilarating about seeing a cast of mainstream names, including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly and Ben Wishaw, behaving this oddly.
Set in some sort of Dystopian future, The Lobster introduces us to a world in which single people are transported to The Hotel, and given 45 days to find love before they are turned into an animal of their choosing. David, a quiet middle aged man played by Farrell, is whisked off to The Hotel after being jilted by his girlfriend. After informing the sinister Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman, easily the funniest part of the film) that he wishes to be turned into a lobster, David meets some of his fellow Hotel guests, including the cocky Limping Man (Ben Wishaw), the downbeat Lisping Man (John C. Reilly, reminding audiences everywhere that he still exists), and the terrifying Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia, best known as the eldest daughter in Dogtooth).
After an hour of awkward first encounters, public speaking and cringe-worthy discos, David leaves the Hotel and finds himself with the Loners; fellow Hotel escapees rebelling against relationships in the woods. He is accepted by the leader (Léa Seydoux), but soon finds himself falling for the Short Sighted Woman, adorably played by Rachel Weisz.
As you can probably tell from the synopsis, The Lobster is a complicated film, narrative wise. Lanthimos offers very little in the way of exposition or backstory; it’s up to the audience to pick up the rules of the world and its inhabitants as it goes along. This technique is pretty effective in the first half as David is introduced to The Hotel. Slowly, the situation gets more and more sinister and unpleasant as more rules and regulations are introduced to this bizarrely muted world. Masturbation is met with hand-related torture. Seminars and presentations show the dangers of eating alone. David has a horribly uncomfortable sexual encounter with a maid, which doesn’t seem much fun for either party. The only exposition we get is through the Short Sighted Woman’s narration, which is mostly irritating and pointless, a needless quirk that only becomes useful in the second half of the film.
It takes a bold director and a bold script to completely change tack halfway through, a quality very few films can pull off well. After the darkly comic, always-intriguing first half, Lathimos takes David away from The Hotel and into the company of the Loners. After rich, well-sketched characters like the Limping Man and Ashley Jensen’s tragic Biscuit Woman, the Loners can’t help but feel a bit dull. Léa Seydoux is decent as the Leader, all harsh faces and cutting remarks, while Rachel Weisz is very likable as Farrell’s new love interest, but Michael Smiley, an underrated British treasure mostly known for his collaborations with Ben Wheatley, is left floundering with almost nothing to do. This section would be fine if it lasted around 20 minutes; at half the film, it feels stretched out, leading the film into an anticlimactic ending. If you’ve seen Dogtooth, you know the kind of final shot Lathimos likes; long, ambiguous, and ultimately frustrating.
Farrell, always so brilliant when he leaves the mainstream, has never quite been like this before. His usual manic energy and charm has completely disappeared, replaced by a blank stare, a middle aged paunch, and a lack of any king of excitement or fun. It’s a terrifically downbeat performance, and the best Farrell has given since In Bruges back in 2008. Most of the supporting cast are good to great, with Colman (who really should be getting bigger film roles, given her immense talent) and Papoulia particularly standing out.
Though the script has plenty of witty lines and bleakly interesting ideas about love and loneliness, it lets itself down with its epic length. At two hours, The Lobster is a long film, and it really doesn’t need to be. Films this weird and challenging need to come in at no more than 100 minutes; by keeping in some fairly extraneous scenes and characters, Lathimos gives the audience a little too much to digest, leading to a bloated and saggy final act.
With a script as original as you can hope for in 2015 and a game, committed cast, The Lobster is always an entertaining and incredibly dark little comedy drama. Lathimos is a director unlike any other and The Lobster really is unlike anything you’ll see this year. With a tighter, sharper script, it could have ended up a cult classic. By switching to a less interesting plot for the second hour of the film, swapping the pitch black laughs and mundane vision of the future for an awkward mix of survival horror and quirky romance, Lathimos makes a fundamental scripting mistake, to the detriment of the film. It’s still very entertaining, and certainly worth checking out, but it’s missing that final memorable set piece, that killer climax that really seals the deal. A good film that’s just a little too far from greatness.
By Harry Ford