The Lobster (2016): Black Comedy Served With Surrealism (Review)

Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell in The Lobster

Co-written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Efthymis Filippou was the other scribe on the film) The Lobster is a futuristic black comedy served up with a huge dose of surrealism. The film feels quite literally like the love child of Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson while any other members of the Monty Python gang could be the godparents. 

The film is quite literally the oddest thing out there at the moment.  Set in some point in the near future, the world inhabited by Farrell’s character, and a slew of other brilliant actors, is clearly dystopian.  In many ways Lanthimos and Filippou seem to be forecasting a world gone mad, one more concerned with control rather than passion.

Farrell’s character; David, falls out of a relationship and is sent to a hotel where occupants have a certain amount of time to find a life partner. Society is advanced enough to recognize the need to have two categories. Homosexual and heterosexual, although the bisexual one was removed in the distant past.

For a film to start with a voice over (by Rachel Weisz) and a blonde woman driving to a field with two donkeys, only to get out and shoot one dead, means that this feature is going to be very different and eclectic.

We learn quite quickly that the people at the hotel must find a mate within  a specific time period or they well be turned into an animal of their choice.  There are odd rules that must be obeyed and certain traditions must be followed.

Masturbation, for example, is forbidden. Yet before each “hunt,” where the guests go after loners with tranquilizer dart guns, David is gently manipulated to orgasm by a hotel maid. She rubs her bum against his crotch, a practice that Davids insists is horrible.

Each single person must hunt for a “match.” In each instance of mutual attraction, the couple must have something in common. For example, later, in the woods, David learns finds that he and the short sighted woman (near sighted) – played by Weisz – share this feature making them the perfect couple.

However, in the woods, there are also rules. Stiff and inflexible ones that result in horrible punishments if broken. Each “loner” is forced to dig their own grave, for occupation later, and they are not allowed to kiss or have sex with other loners.

This odd future world seems to be inhabited with self satisfying and simple people who do not have the ability to think abstractly. The world is full of sheep who are easily led by whomever is in charge.

While becoming a couple is the pinnacle of achievement, and necessary to prevent being turned into a horse or, as the title implies, a lobster (David’s choice.) people who are together are still self serving.

In one scene between the couple who run the hotel and the leader of the loners, played by Léa Seydoux, the leader works to sabotage the couple’s relationship.  

The message of the film appears to be that in the future, no one will be allowed to do as they wish. Everyone is controlled by one faction or another and failure to comply either equals death or transmutation into an animal.

The film is funny. John C. Reilly plays a character with a lisp. At one point three friends get into a argument and another character tells the Reilly’s character that whatever animal he become will have a lisp.

After the donkey murder at the start, Farrell’s character is checked into the hotel. He is asked what animal he would like to be if he fails to find a mate. He says lobster. Olivia Colman, the hotel managers congratulates David on his choice. “Nearly everyone,” she tells him, “chooses to be a dog. That’s why there are so many of them.”

Each character in The Lobster speak as if they are not used to doing so. The lines and dialogues between the people in the film feels stilted and unnatural. One gets the impression that the inhabitants of this world are not the sharpest tools in the shed at all.

Their needs are quite basic and their emotions follow suit. This world is quirky, unintelligent and slow.  The pace of the film is snail-like making the almost two hour film feel much, much longer. As interesting as the story is, the movie could have easily lost over a half hour.

Out of the all the cast, several were more than outstanding with their interpretation of their parts.  If there were any real complaint it would be that the brilliantly natural Michael Smiley was definitely under-used.

The film belonged to Farrell, who, after gaining around 40 pounds,  looked oddly like Kevin Kline especially with his mustache and glasses, Weisz and Seydoux, who is so sullenly and fiercely beautiful she takes one’s breath away. Ariane Labed, as the maid, is gloriously sexy in her role while maintaining  a certain ambiguity.

The Lobster suffers from a very confusing  open ended climax. Things are left hanging and one has to interpret their own definition of what happens as the screen fades to black.

Shot entirely in Ireland, the film’s countryside settings are luscious and wild.  The cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis is stunning all the more so because the unit used natural light and no makeup.

The Lobster is a clear 4.5 star film. The movie intrigues while it entertains and offers enough fragmentary confusion and surreal situations that the film’s makers could be successors to Gilliam and Anderson.  An eccentric treat with a splendid cast, this is one that should not be missed.

Dream House (2011): A Pleasant Surprise

Dream Home (2011): A Pleasant Surprise

The 2011 film Dream House was a pleasant surprise. I had no real intention of watching the film as the marketing on it left a lot to be desired.  But as it was on Sky Movies I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did.  It turned into a pleasant surprise, despite the somewhat jumbled editing and plot holes.

Directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) and starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, the film is a psychological thriller that was marketed as a horror film. The film, when released got almost universally panned by critics. Although that does seem to be the modus operandi when films are not pre-screened for critics.

The other problem the film encountered was that Jim Sheridan had major problems with the producers Morgan Creek Productions. Morgan Creek took the film away from the director and did their own final cut on the film. Sheridan then  attempted to have his name removed from the production. Two of the film’s stars,  Craig and Weisz, also refused to do any publicity for the film.

Daniel Craig was completely disgusted by the final product.  But in interviews after the fact revealed that while he did not like the finished film, he did meet his future wife Rachel Weisz so it was “a fair trade.”

The film follows Will Atenton (Craig)  who has quit his desk job and is going to write a book. He has a leaving party and goes to his new home away from the city and starts his new job as novelist.  His family consists of wife Libby (Weisz), and their two daughters Trish and DeeDee.

The small family seem to have an almost idyllic life until they start being threatened by someone who is watching their every move and the local police will not help them. Apart from a reluctantly helpful neighbour, Ann Patterson (Watts), no one in the small town is on their side.

Will decides he must help his family alone and he learns that the house  his perfect family live in was the scene of a gruesome murder.

Dream Home (2011): A Pleasant Surprise

The story moves on quite well and the pacing, though uneven, is still on-par for the genre. Despite the director’s unhappiness  with the final product, it is overall a very satisfactory film. Dream House, for all its negative reviews is a pleasant surprise. The plot twists, when they appeared were genuinely surprising and by the end of the film, I almost had a tear in my eye.

Almost.

It would have been nice to see the film that Sheridan, Craig and Weisz had imagined. It is not unusual for producers to snatch a film from  a director after disagreements arise. In this case you are left wondering just how powerful the original vision must have been.

All the actors do a brilliant job in the film. Craig proved, once again, that he is not just a “Bond” one-trick pony. He had shown his acting chops well before he took on 007 and it was nice to see those chops reaffirmed. Weisz is as usual a  pleasure to watch, she always brings a huge degree of believability to any role she undertakes.

Naomi Watts does her standard good job as the neighbour who knows much more than she lets on. Honourable mentions have to go to Elias Koteas and Martin Csokas as the film’s two “boogie-men.”

The film looked brilliant in terms of cinematography and set design. The switching between the “dream house” and its uglier more derelict appearance was done masterfully and with just enough of a seam to show how the character’s were seeing it.

Plot holes and dangling storyline were not a huge issue, although the actual plot device had been done before, most notably in Jim Carrey‘s The Number 23But Dream House was, overall, a pleasant surprise and well worth the time spent watching it. I was suitably impressed, despite the film’s troubled beginnings. I’d give it a four out of five stars for entertainment.

MIchael Smith

United Kingdom

11 September, 2013

English: Naomi Watts at the Cannes film festival
English: Naomi Watts at the Cannes film festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)