By: Akram Shaban
Near future dystopian societies in movies give me the creeps.
The cause for this discomfort is just how much the depictions resemble what we know about our way of life today. Most of the operations and routines of a city are retained. Buildings look the same. People drive cars, go shopping, and attend university lectures just the same. It is the jarring similarities, among other things, that make the stories so disturbing to watch. Just the thought of oppression and totalitarianism existing seamlessly around the context of “normal life,” rendered invisible by our blindness and indifference to it, is enough to thrill the viewer. But most of all, it is the truth that the audience is as ignorant as the characters (in a way inheriting their oppression) that’s truly disturbing. That is how I would begin my review of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. But another film accomplishes the same level of intrigue (and necessary discomfort), and it would be useful to consult Enemy, to help us understand what it’s all about.
Colin Farrell as David (C), Ben Whishaw as The Limping Man (R) and John C. Reilly as Lisping Man (L) in The Lobster
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster takes place in the dystopian city dubbed simply The City. Societal customs and attitudes have been drastically altered; single people have to spend 45 days in a hotel to find their romantic partner. If they fail… well, they’re turned into an animal of their choosing. Colin Farrell portrays David, who’s compelled to reside in the hotel after his wife had left him. He chooses to be a lobster. There he meets The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden) and a host of other dynamic characters. Rachel Weisz is the Short-sighted Woman, as well as the narrator throughout the film. As you can tell, many of the characters are referred to by their defining character trait.
Everything about this film is weird and interesting. In this society, the manners of speech, social etiquette, and the subject matter allowed to be discussed are heavily scrutinized and monitored. Characters interact in a robot-like manner, discussing only the bottom line, with no sugar coating. Conversations are short, blunt, and have a purpose. If there is no point in speaking, no one speaks. There is virtually no emotion or any explicit expressions of anxiety, happiness or fear. A conversation may begin with a proposition to discuss a topic and end with something along the lines of “we are finished speaking now, you may go.” Couples form relationships on seemingly meaningless traits they happen to have in common. There is the couple that shares a Social Sciences background, or the couple that “suffers from frequent nose bleeds.”
This is not to say that small talk does not occur, or that it’s boring. In one scene David speaks to The Biscuit Woman, played by Ashley Jensen, while they’re on their way to “hunt.” I won’t spoil what they discuss, but should you see the film for yourself, consider that conversation as an example of what I describe above. It is a disturbing conversation to say the least.
Lea Seydoux (C) as Loner Leader in The Lobster
Why is the “hunt” in quotation marks you ask? Well in the world of The Lobster, loners hide in the woods in proximity to the Hotel. When the alarms are sounded, the residents of the Hotel descend into the trees and neutralize as many loners as they can with dart guns. The more they capture, the more days they get to stay at the Hotel, thus granting them more time to find a partner. This aspect of the story becomes very important later on, which I encourage you to experience and rationalize yourself.
Because the customs of the society are so bizarre, the characters have to behave in some bizarre manners, which is where top notch acting comes into play. David is slightly overweight, has a mustache, and is very much recluse. He appears the most normal out of everyone, yet his quirks are apparent. Farrell delivers an awkward, at times unnerving, and beautiful portrayal of that character. C. Reilly and the rest of the supporting cast do not fail us either, each bringing the unique idiosyncrasies of their characters to life. As a performance and visually dependant film, the actors do a really good job in immersing the viewer.
As the story unfolds, you are shocked as each custom and rule is revealed (and by the many more you may start to imagine). There are a few twists that put each character, especially David, to all sorts of mental and emotional tests, which they must endure in order to survive and ultimately be happy. Some of the tests are part of the Hotel’s program while others are circumstantial life lessons.
John C. Reilly as Lisping Man (L), Ben Whishaw as Limping Man (C) and Colin Farrell as David (R) in The Lobster
How to interpret those events could perhaps be made easier by referencing Enemy. Consider viewing that film first, before going to see The Lobster. Think about invisible forces influencing the actions of the characters. Consider how oppression can be imposed on ignorant subjects, with the use of psychological rather than violent forces. Is everything you see exactly how it seems or are they a representation or a reimagining of some aspect of reality, viewed through a distorted lens? There are multiple layers to this type of narrative, and it is important to explore those questions to fully appreciate the film.
By the end, you will have been perplexed, humoured, disturbed, and maybe even scared. But I am confident you will not be disappointed, as there is something to be taken from the film by everybody, whether it is positive or negative.
The Lobster executes one of my favourite genres of film in all the ways I would expect and earns a well-deserved A from The Film Lawyers (9.0/10).