Monday, 16 November 2015

Movie Review: The Lobster (2015)



I’ve talked before about the high-conceptuality of speculative fiction, but as much as I like it when filmmakers indulge in their more bonkers side, it is perfectly understandable if it repels other, more discerning filmgoers away. Even if My Little Pony doesn’t get the same knee-jerk reaction out of me these days as it used to, a certain level of self-awareness is required so as to understand why other people may see you as… odd, to say the least, for watching it. For all our talk about not judging books by their covers, every so often there will be a film that sounds too out there for audiences to apparently take. This is one such occasion, and I will freely admit that the premise had me sceptical about its efficacy as well… then again, I’m sceptical about pretty much every release these days, so this is nothing new. However, I can only hope that by this review’s end, I will have converted at least some people on seeing this film because it deserves to be watched. This is The Lobster.

The plot: In a dystopian future, all adults who become single are sent to The Hotel for a period of 45 days. Once there, they are forced to find a prospective partner, or else they will be turned into an animal and released into The Woods. David (Colin Farrell) ends up in The Hotel and, during the process of finding a mate, is pushed to his furthest extremes in order to find someone, anyone, and prevent his fate of becoming an animal.

The cast is full of recognizable European actors, as well as John C. Reilly: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ashley Jensen, Léa Seydoux, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, and that’s just to name a few. Here’s where I would normally discuss individual performances that stood out for me… but that’s pretty much impossible in this case as everyone acts exactly the same in this film: Blunt, direct and largely detached from their emotions. Under regular circumstances, I’d bring up how this is director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language production, which could have led to him not being used to directing actors in a different language and going full Claudio Fergasso here. However, this feeling works surprisingly well within the context of the film. You ever been to a party where there’s that one person who looks, and sounds, incredibly out of place; almost like they’ve been forced to come to the party because they rarely talk with people otherwise? That’s every person in this film, and considering they live in a world where people are so painstakingly pressured to find their respective partners, it’s understandable. They sound like they’re being forced to socialize at gunpoint because, in a way, they are. Probably the big tell that this is by all means a conscious effort, aside from having seen these actors in other films for comparison, is that they all get some chance to show a deeper emotion. The fact that they suppress it every other time makes those moments even more powerful, and it definitely helps separate this from being simply wooden into more Vulcan-style acting.

Given the eccentric premise, to put it outrageously mildly, I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this. What I got in return was a rather uncomfortably frank look at the way society views relationships. We see the residents of the Hotel being coerced in every way possible, beyond just being turned into wildlife, to find their other half, almost as if they themselves are cattle being forced to repopulate just so the whole process can continue. Not that it is entirely bleak though as, through the rather blunt writing and performances along with the bizarre situations the characters find themselves in, it induces that very awkward kind of laughter as, once you slice through the esoteric script, this should be more than a little familiar for anyone. People in quote-unquote “solid” relationships tend to be seen as something to attain, like we don’t even count unless we have someone by our side. As such, under all of that pressure to find someone, we end up having to lie to ourselves and to everyone else just to ‘match’ someone else. Of course, because of this, our own insecurities will show through in a need to test a prospective other, as if their affection simply isn’t enough. It’s this kind of “tell, don’t show” attitude that really highlights the almost clinical stance society as a whole can take when it comes to love, regardless of gender; emotions aren’t always obvious and, if we don’t constantly make those feelings known out loud, it’s as if they don’t exist at all. This is social science fiction doing what it does best: Through certainly bizarre means, exposing audiences to a truth/reality that they wouldn’t be able to accept had the story been told more directly.

This is helped by the fact that not only does the film acknowledge non-heterosexual relationships, but it even brings up how bisexuality is almost invisible in the world today. You know, that thing I spent an entire paragraph bitching about not that long ago? Through The Hotel’s categorization of tenants as either hetero or homosexual, not allowed to pick between the two, we get a further glimpse at how society only seems capable of digesting certain labels that it stick to people. Hell, as much as I applaud us as a species for beginning to accept gay and lesbian relationships more openly these days, we still have a long way to go in terms of QUILTBAG rights. Society will actively try to squeeze you into them and make you like everyone else, something expertly shown inside the Hotel thanks to the subtle yet effective costuming, and anything that doesn’t fit into those labels is somehow difficult to understand or handle. Not only that but, through the way heterosexual relationships are depicted here in terms of necessity, we see an unfortunately accurate picture of gender roles in ‘typical’ relationships. Essentially, as much as we are pushed towards finding our ‘soul mate’, it still seems like happiness isn’t guaranteed for everyone involved; so long as you’re a cis male, you should be fine.

Not that this film is entirely pro-introvert, though, as it admits that the isolation can cause extremely damaging things to people. It can even get to the point where sheer desperation and jealousy will kick in and you find yourself lashing out in a selfish act of sabotage against someone else’s happiness, or even your own because you don’t know how to handle it (showcased here through the best use of a Nick Cave song I’ve seen outside of 10,000 Days On Earth). Being single sucks, plain and simple, and scenes where we see the inhabitants of the Hotel and even the Woods do cruel things because of where the loneliness has driven them to… honestly, it rings true to a certain extent. Probably the most tragic part about it though is that, because of all that mental conditioning to partner up and our natural need, at times, to just be left the hell alone, it can even lead up to us struggling to maintain that connection with someone, even if they are the ‘right one’ should such a person (or concept) even exist.

Despite how the bluntness and hollow performances definitely work to the film’s advantage, there are times when it becomes too much: The to-the-point dialogue occasionally hits some brick walls where we have people repeating topics that don’t need to be in a given scene; the narration through the bulk of the film almost comes across as parody with how obvious said narration of events can get; and the monotone performances along with the film’s colour palette can glaze over on occasion. Of course, this is where the film’s quirkiness definitely comes in handy as, before the audience’s attention wavers too greatly, seeing a camel walking in a forest should be enough to bring them back around. Yeah, as much I’ve talked in purposely broad strokes about the more allegorical side of things, the presence of the animals in given scenes can be funny, shocking and even harrowing. This definitely helped by how we have live animals in this film. Again, I feel stupid for having to point that out, but it is still well appreciated to see filmmakers putting the actual effort into showing flesh-and-blood animals on screen. This also leads into a nice bit of Fridge Horror once it settles in that the people of this world regularly eat meat… and I think I’ll just leave it at that for you to decipher on your own.

All in all, this is the kind of film where the weirdness of the premise largely exists for the sake of its own commentary. This would come across as preachy and transparent, if it weren’t for the fact that said commentary is insanely well-written and delivered. The acting hits emotionless without appearing completely stiff, the production values are fantastic, and the script, while very to-the-point with its message, is easily one of the most intelligent I’ve seen all year. If this film sounds too weird for you to handle, ignore that part of your brain and go see this film; it is fan-freaking-tastic. It’s better than It Follows, as this film’s commentary on sexual politics works on its own, whereas that film’s worked a lot better when put into context with its genre. However, as a pure film-going experience, The Walk still created a more immersive effect when all is said and done.

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