The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
As the official selections of many international festivals prove, Greece is one of those countries (together with Romania, South Korea or Iran) that are opening new territories in 21st century cinema. Among the filmmakers linked to the so-called New Greek Cinema, Yorgos Lanthimos is with no doubt the most successful and fascinating of them. In his short career, this 44-year-old director has established himself as one of the most talented auteurs of recent European cinema, and even if his movies do not fit in any genre, his first film in the United States, The Lobster (2015), cannot be considered but a love story.
Yes, a love story. Critics may have focused on its satirical sense of humour, or its links with other dystopian films, but the most interesting aspect of the movie is its discourse on love and relationships. Even if Lanthimos picks up in The Lobster some of the elements that were there in his previous films Dogtooth (2009) and Alps (2011)--the uncanny feeling produced by settings and characters that seem at once familiar and unfamiliar, recognizable yet strange--the focus of his new feature film is extremely human: love. Its discourse is articulated in two parts corresponding with the two halves in which the film is divided.
In the first one, David (Collin Farrell) is forced to enter into a sort of dystopian facility in which singles have 45 days to find a partner, or they’ll be transformed into an animal. The activities and rules in this institution are oriented to that goal: from gala dinners (at midday) in which they can dance with other residents to the prohibition of masturbation, all for the guests to find their ideal partner. This unrealistic atmosphere, though, conveys a very relevant critique: the pressure to find a partner and get married in our contemporary world. As in the film’s dystopian society singles are not allowed to exist, this clearly reflects our tendency to consider coupledom as the norm and other options as deviant. Even the obsession with compatibility (the two members of the couple have to have something in common, i.e. frequent noise bleeding, having no feelings or being short-sighted) reminds of Tinder’s concept of the match.
In the middle of the film, however, David rebels against this single-minded conception of the couple and escapes from the hotel. He gets to the woods, where he finds a group of people apparently living in more freedom. Only one rule stands in this new society: couples are not allowed. While the first half of the movie is devoted to the critique of the couple as the organising element of society, the second examines the opposite view: when being single becomes a must and, as a result, also very dangerous. The rules of the woods restrict David’s freedom as much as the rules in the hotel. The film, therefore, is very critical with the way society confronts love and relationships, either from one extreme or the other. There is, though, a space for hope since David and the unnamed character played by Rachel Weisz fall in love and manage to escape together.
What makes The Lobster superior to the director´s previous films is precisely its ability to use his bizarre style of filmmaking in order to construct a powerful discourse on love. The film is as uncomfortable as it is tender, as difficult to explain as necessary to see.