Sundance 2016: The Lobster, by David Bax
Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster may be deeply cynical about the ability of human beings to carry on long term romantic relationships – this is a film that takes as its love theme the Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue murder ballad “Where the Wild Roses Grow” – but it maintains a deep empathy to the lengths we go to try for love and the pain we feel when we are alone. Also, it’s incredibly funny.
Colin Farrell stars as David, a man who has found himself single in an alternate reality society wherein the unattached are sent to a resort hotel where they have 45 days to fall in love or be turned into an animal of their choice.
Lanthimos’ aesthetic favors symmetry. He makes use of the broadness of the 1.85 frame to surround his performers with thoughtfully composed spaces. Taken alongside the deadpan delivery of his actors, it’s the kind of style that often gets compared to Wes Anderson but should more rightly be credited to Luis Bunuell, from whom Anderson takes much of his inspiration.
Bunuel was a surrealist and, certainly, The Lobster deserves to be included in the same genre. The way tragedy is played for laughter and extraordinary events are treated as mundane is pure surrealism. But where Bunuel’s themes pulsed under layers of absurdity, Lanthimos is bracingly straightforward. When David attempts to manufacture a match with a psychotic woman by pretending to be as heartless as she, he is plainly reminded that a relationship cannot be built on a lie. These metaphors are not subtle, as you can see. In fact, this exaggeration of reality in order to comment on it is the clue as to what family The Lobster truly belongs to. This is less surrealism than it is satire.
Again, Lanthimos is cynical. The only way for resort residents to prolong their stay is to hunt down and tranquilize the “loners” who live as outlaws in the woods. And even when two people do find each other, it’s because they have latched on to superficial commonalities. Yet The Lobster manages to avoid being off-putting in its pessimism by truly caring for its characters, despite their futile shallowness. Finally, it doesn’t matter how cheaply two people were brought together. When he leaves us waiting on whether or not a character will follow through with a true act of devotion, it is just as moving as any silver screen romance.