It should count as the highest sort of praise that I can’t believe Dogtooth came out in 2010. It feels like that movie just happened to me. It’s hopefully another tribute to its abilities that I’m compelled to describe the experience in some way that is a bit more grand than the trivial-sounding norm of “having watched it,” which feels wholly inadequate. That movie happens to you.
Yorgos Lanthimos‘ Dogtooth revolved around the lives and experiences of three teenagers who live the ultimate of sheltered existences with their, let’s face it, psychotic parents. The children have never left the grounds of their home, have been taught their own pseudo-language by way of misdefining actual words, and are beaten and/or bizarrely punished for the smallest of infractions. Things come to a head in the film as sex, and to a certain extent, the outside world, enter the game.
It’s as bizarre a film as you might imagine, and is hard for most viewers to describe without using the words, “disturbing,” and/or, “unsettling.”
It’s an amazing effort, because it aims for a certain spin on the classic theory of sci-fi, which is to witness impossible situations and see how they reflect reality… only with “truly bonkers” instead of ray guns.
The Lobster goes for both. Well, not ray guns exactly.
The film stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly, and revolves around a bizarre dystopian world in which single people are forced to move into The Hotel. They have 45 days to find a suitable partner. If they don’t, they will be turned into the animal of their choice.
We enter the film as David (Colin Farrell) checks into The Hotel, with his brother, the dog, in tow. David lost his wife, and its time for him to partner up again.
David’s bleak reality now is filled with the strict routine of The Hotel, which involves sparse accommodation, structured meals, and the unemotional, monotone interactions with other people who don’t seem particularly interested in avoiding their fate.
The film offers no explanation when it comes to the world, or the society these people are a part of, and instead leaves it to you to figure out if anything makes sense. Like Dogtooth, it unapologetically dares you to stop watching, though The Lobster at least has some A-List actors who get you to believe that they signed on for some reason.
The film also defies summary, because little that happens is of consequence in the traditional estimation of such things. David watches the other singles he’s trapped with, and seems one step removed from most of them, at least when it comes to hoping for a partner, but the events are just excuses to watch how people in this world move through their day.
The parody/allegory kicks into gear as David meets The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and The Lisping Man (John C. Reilly). The group become pseudo-friends and bemoan The Limping Man’s poor luck when a Limping Woman turns out to have only turned her ankle. Such is the theory of compatibility at play here, and everyone seems equally on board, no matter the cost.
David catches a spark of hope when he discovers that The Limping Man has started bashing his own head into tables with the arrival of a woman who keeps getting nosebleeds. With few options, David sets his sights on a woman whose most notable feature is an absolute indifference toward other people, and the slow, methodical hilarity ensues.
The film skewers humanity and society from every angle, and in the end is willing to bet that you can’t convince it that the real world is actually any different. From The Hotel’s bonkers “infomercials” justifying its existence and attitudes, to the bewildered acceptance of its residents, and even the equally bonkers counterposition of those in The Wild who have eschewed the “pairing up” of society to live in a no less ludicrous, or barbaric, state.
Lanthimos’ films are after the sort of storytelling that is all but dead in the world. It’s the hyperbole of old world mythology mixed with several variants of cynicism, and told by someone who wants desperately to share some wisdom, but doesn’t want to tell you what it is. There’s a certain sense of feeling chained by Wilde’s unteachableness of important things, and struggling against that idea.
In the end, while the circumstances may border on the nonsensical, it’s hard to argue against the purity of truth inherent in the way people act and react, and how they think about themselves, others, and their place in the world.
The questions and conversations built into the film are endless, and none of your answers turn out to be as straightforward as you’ve always thought them to be. Even figuring out which question you’re looking at in any particular moment is tricky. And, all of it is wrapped up neatly, not in “What if you had to live like this?” but, “What if you didn’t, and did anyway?”
The Lobster Trailer
In a dystopian future all singletons are arrested and transferred to the Hotel according to the rules of the Town, and there they have 45 days to find a matching mate, otherwise they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the Woods. When one man escaped from the Hotel to the Woods where the Loners live, he falls in love and in doing so contravenes the rules.
The Lobster is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Alps, Dogtooth), written by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou (Alps, Dogtooth), and produced by Lanthimos, Ceci Dempsey (Bedrooms and Doorways), Lee Magiday (the Guard) and Ed Guiney (The Guard, Frank).