There are some films that are incredibly hard to talk about. If the main stars have trouble with explaining the film, then what hope does a random person who saw the film once and is shouting their opinion over the internet have? There is a lot going on in Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest release, and his English language debut, The Lobster so no more dilly dallying let us unpack this strange, surreal, hilarious film.
If you have seen any of Lanthimos’ other work you kind of already know what to expect. I personally had seen his 2009 release Dogtooth, a film about a father who has kept his children in his estate all their lives, so I was already familiar with
his signature style. There is stilted acting, fact based dialogue, awkward interaction, long takes, interspersed slow motion and sexual encounters so painful to watch you cannot look away. Now this may be off putting to some, but for those who put in the effort they will be rewarded with one of the strangest, funniest and most heart-breaking films of the year.
The easiest place to start is probably with a plot synopsis. Set in a dystopian future where people must always be in a relationship, David (Colin Ferrell) is sent to a hotel where he must find a new romantic partner within 45 days or he will be turned into an animal of his choice. This plot summary only encompasses a small amount of the running time, however going any further into the story of the film would give away some of the stranger turns and twists that this weird Greek comedy drama has to offer. And it is probably best that you see the film rather than read the Wikipedia article, because, as I have said already and might say again, it is definitely one of the best films of the year.
The plot is not important though. What is important is the world and the characters that the writers Lanthimos himself and Efthimis Filippou have created. If the characters were not interesting or entertaining then the entire film would have fallen flat on its face.
Thankfully the entire cast perform that role perfectly. From the main stars Farrell and Rachel Weisz to the supporting players like Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Ashley Jensen and Olivia Colman, each character has their own defining personality and play off one another with such awkward humour that the theatre was roaring with laughter on more than one occasion. In fact an argument could be made that the film rests solely on the shoulders of the supporting cast, as they have the best moments in the film. From John C. Reilly’s slow-motion frolic in the woods to Ben Whishaw’s courting techniques, the background characters provide the loudest laughs of the film. That is not to say the stars are not good; Farrell seems perfectly at home in the film, his quiet, socially inept David is the heart and soul of the film. And it his multiple failed attempts at forging relationships that are another great source of comedy. The amazing thing about this is that all the subtly and humour come through despite the purposefully stylised acting. The dialogue feels memorised and stilted, but I suppose that fits in a world in which social interaction is a legal necessity and being alone is illegal.
The cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis and editing by Yorgos Mavropsaridis are functional and fit the story. However there is enough style in them to keep the film really interesting. The last sequence for example is perhaps more powerful and painful for its construction. Similarly the use of slow-motion provides audiences with a level of quiet beauty and a greater understanding of the characters through their movement; in the example of the already mentioned sequence with John C. Reilly we truly understand the plight that he faces through his struggle with twigs and branches.
The cinematography is used in more subtle ways as well. The background is used particularly well for world building, when the characters visit the city, and for comedy. Due to the premise of the film one can expect to see animals you wouldn’t usually expect to see in that location appear during emotional scenes, a great example would be when a flamingo walks past Farrell and Weisz during a heart to heart.
As with beginning I am unsure of how to end this review. The acting is fantastic, the cinematography is understated and fitting, with a level of poetic beauty, and the comedy is top notch. I loved this film, but I know that it will not be to everyone’s tastes; some people are going to like it others are going to hate it. But what would you expect with a film that starts with a completely unexplained sequence involving a woman shooting a donkey.