Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Efthimis Filippou & Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux.
A few years ago a small Greek foreign film made quite the splash named Dogtooth. The story was a harrowing take of a couple who refused to allow their children outside of their sights, keeping them imprisoned well into their adulthood. The film explored themes of abuse, incest, and violence. It was not an easy watch, but it was an incredible exploration into the human mind both from the sides of the abuser and the abused. This year’s The Wolfpack proved that if such a thing happens in real life things are not as brutal, but the film made its point and was extremely effective. The film’s director was Yorgos Lanthimos who is back this year with his first English language film, The Lobster.
This is easily the most original film I have seen in a long time. And technically, due to some of the themes present, the film could be characterized as both a science fiction film as well as a dystopian thriller. But viewers looking for a bombastic, action filled adventure will be disappointed. The film is thrilling, but is made up of a series of quietly tense and terrifying moments filled with the possibility of horror, but more so it is a psychological study and indictment of a society that enforces its values on its citizens. I loved it, but I also know that many would not. But highly divisive movies are always the best because they force a reaction in the audience. The worst thing is when a movie barely registers and is utterly forgettable. Trust me, this is anything but.
Colin Farrell plays David (the only named character) a man recently single, whose wife left him. In the particular world David lives in, being single is illegal. When caught, a single person must enter a facility and once the program begins, that person has 45 days to find a new mate and a good match, failure to do so does not result in death. The punishment is that said single person is transformed into animal form (an animal of their choosing) and then released into the wild. David, in fact, is accompanied by a dog, who is actually his brother who had failed to find a mate some time earlier, prior to the film’s events. In the facility David makes acquaintance of a lisping man (John C. Reilly) and a limping man (Ben Whishaw of Skyfall fame). Other guests include a biscuit woman (Ashley Jensen, usually known for comedic roles such as Extras or Ugly Betty) and a heartless woman (Dogtooth‘s Angeliki Papoulia). Throughout the stay the hotel manager (Broadchurch‘s Olivia Coleman) instruct the residents of the upsides of coupledom, and why this type of lifestyle is superior. A guest can extend their stay by capturing what are known as ‘loners’ – single people removed from society who live in the woods. After a failed attempt at mating with the heartless woman David escapes and joins the loners, led by the stoic Léa Seydoux (Blue Is the Warmest Color) and includes a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) amongst the members. The loners have also their own set of rules, most important being that any type of connection, sexual or romantic, is entirely forbidden. The plot develops from there.
Lest one forgets that this film is based in a fantasy world the film peppers in a few reminders throughout. Most notable is that during the woods-based scenes once in a while the background sees a conspicuous and extraneous animal walk through the shots, such as a camel or peacock, reminding the viewer of the stakes if a mate is not found or if a loner is caught. Language is also very different in this alternate reality – people are much more honest, nearly robotic in their delivery of speech, and much more explicit than we are when we express ourselves when speaking. The film is not for the faint of heart, some of the scenes are brutal and hard to sit through, but never did I feel bored. This film was gripping, intense, and bizarre. The originality factor is impressive.
The title derives from the animal that David chose as his intended animal metamorphosis. The lisping man chose a parrot. Most people choose dogs, but any fauna is acceptable. Makes you wonder what you would choose in such a world, doesn’t it?