June 24 — June 30
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
Imagine the stress of a young, single guy who’s given only 45 days to find true love. Though he looks like Colin Farrell, he hasn’t the smoldering-but-sensitive sex appeal of the Irish heartthrob we’ve seen in movies like In Bruges and Miami Vice. This Colin Farrell is shy, socially awkward, and slightly marshmallowy-looking, like the repressed, similarly mustachioed hero Joaquin Phoenix played in Her (the fellow who becomes infatuated with a sexy-voiced, sentient A.I.). Imagine taking one of those “in-depth” profiling surveys used in popular matchmaker/dating websites, and you encountered this gem: “If you could be any animal (other than human) for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Typical answers might include: stallion, eagle, lion, etc. What kind of person would respond with the crustacean of the title of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film? Particularly if the question were far from fanciful or hypothetical—those who respond and fail to find love within the allotted 45 days actually become the animal they choose. Would a person who selected “lobster” as his reincarnation-of-choice have a real chance of finding a mate? On the other hand, wouldn’t the uniqueness of his answer ensure that whoever he found truly was his soul mate, someone who accepts this apparent loser for his inner qualities? Any moviegoer who’s seen Dogtooth or Alps knows that Lanthimos is the master of concocting isolated worlds in which characters act in completely bizarre and alien ways—yet the cinematic tone is so deadpan, and the circumstances close enough to plausibility, that viewers accept this nuttiness with more seriousness than we’d have expected. For the first time, though, Lanthimos is working in English; and his new film is set not in the present but in an unspecified future, so its veneer of “science fiction” allows it to push the envelope even further in terms of outrageous incident and twisted psychology. The fact that characters speak in English and are played by recognizable actors like Colin Farrell makes their behavior even stranger to American viewers. Dogtooth’s warped family dynamics were disturbing enough in a foreign film, but The Lobster transports that same off-kilter sensibility into an English-language context, where many people won’t accept it as readily. Cinemaphiles prepared for the straight-faced absurdity of The Lobster, however, will find it funny, dark, creepy, unpredictable, and completely entrancing. After his wife leaves him, David (Farrell) must check into a special hotel where people like him are expected to make love connections. In this society, no one is allowed to go through life solo. Those who fight against the system are “Loners” and literally hunted like animals; residents of the hotel participate in the hunting expeditions and get extensions on their 45 day time limit for each Loner they capture. Supporting characters have emblematic names that define them: Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) are damaged but sympathetic individuals; potential life-partners for David include Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), and Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). The most chilling character is the aptly-named Heartless Woman (Aggeliki Papoulia), who has extended her time indefinitely by hunting Loners. Life in the hotel is oppressive, marked by brutal punishment for any transgression, but when David escapes to hide out with the Loners, he finds their makeshift society just as unfeeling—the Loners, led by Léa Seydoux, have outlawed romantic attachments altogether. As with other Lanthimos films, The Lobster ensnares viewers because we have to figure out the “rules” of this unique world for ourselves, gradually. But one of the benefits of this movie’s being in English is that the satire is readily apparent to Americans: it’s quite easy to see how this movie’s an exaggerated, comic look at how today’s society pressures us to seek an all-consuming relationship or become anti-romantic isolationists. There’s no middle ground, and no sympathy for those who want to take their time looking for love. The satire is completely upfront. The language in the film is deliberately stilted, without subtlety, forcing the characters to say exactly what they mean; much humor comes from David’s ridiculous attempts to lie or dissemble, which are transparent to us but apparently fool everyone onscreen. What’s not so obvious at first is the movie’s genuine heart. True, it’s concealed by layers of weirdness, but discerning viewers can sense that The Lobster really does have something sincere and insightful to say about love, loneliness, and empathy. The performances help immensely, starting with Colin Farrell’s hapless hero—there’s absolutely no movie star vanity here, but Farrell’s never been more appealing or likeable. The supporting cast is excellent, too, turning these (purposefully) caricatured roles into sly comic gems of understatement. The secret is that everyone buys into this crazy world, where David’s companion is a dog that used to be his brother (well, still is his brother, technically speaking), and everyone acts like this is normal. There’s no wink at the audience, which makes the movie’s oddness both unsettling and compelling. Despite the fantastic nature of its story, the film never seems frivolous or strange simply for the sake of being strange. It makes the central question—“Can a man who envies the life of a lobster find love in the human world?”—surprisingly relevant and meaningful.
(Rated R for sexual content, profanity, and violence.)
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