Friday, December 2, 2016
LOBSTER, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.
Perhaps the best approach to LOBSTER is simply to begin with a brief synopsis of events. From there on, it’s every person for himself!
Part One: We begin with a woman stopping her car to walk into a field to shoot a cow. Cut to Colin Farrell. A dog sits at his feet. The dog is his brother. Now single after 12 years of marriage, Colin is checking in to some sort of seaside resort hotel that seems more like a boot camp than a pleasure spa. He identifies himself—his shoe size, his marital past, and his sexual preference—at the front desk, strips for an examination, receives a new issue of clothing, a stun gun, and retires to his single room. Everyone appears to be in some sort of trance. Speech is slow and stilted. We learn that if they find a partner within 45 days they can avoid the fate of being transformed into an animal. What animal would Colin wish to return as? He says, “A lobster. Lobsters enjoy the sun and the sea; they live for 100 years; they remain fertile.” There are hunting forays where the guests stalk each other with their stun guns. Afterward, the bodies of those who are shot are laid out on the hotel veranda. Meanwhile, a hotel maid stops in at Colin’s room every now and then to perform sexual services (apparently to confirm the hotel’s agenda, namely, that he is indeed a heterosexual).
Part Two: One day Colin chooses a woman for his partner. She agrees their utter lack of romantic interest makes them ideal companions. They marry. But when she kills his dog (you remember the dog is his brother), he weeps sorrowfully. Whoops! He has emotions after all! She threatens to “turn him in” to the transformation chamber where he will become an animal. But he kills her and escapes.
Part Three. Escaping to the surrounding forest, Colin falls in with a community of “Loners,” single people who have escaped the hotel compound. They are instructed to remain fiercely celibate. They conduct training exercises and, in general, avoid any contact with each other. It turns out that they employ a spy to infiltrate the resort hotel, the very maid who has visited Colin with her sexual errands. Lovely Rachel Weisz catches his eye. She says she is leaving her post at the hotel. Colin is ordered to dig his own grave. But it is the female leader of the community who is overpowered and who is interred in that grave. Colin and Rachel, who has mysteriously gone blind, leave the community and exist alone for awhile in the forest, where he plays “touching and guessing” games with her, bringing various objects for her hands to touch.
Part Four. The two lovers (if that’s what they are) leave the forest and take refuge in a city café. He promises her he is going to do something that will heighten his sense of touch. The story ends with him in the bathroom, a steak knife poised before his eyes.
I relate all this in as deadpan a manner as possible, since that is precisely the weirdly muted and stilted absurdist comic tone that is LOBSTER. The business of animal transformations is left hovering as allegory more than a reality (although animals of all description ramble about the backgrounds of the scenes). Hints of romance, gay and otherwise, abound, but with always the threat of some kind of dangerous recrimination. What seems obvious enough is this trenchant satire on our society’s determination that everyone pair up together, as if we are all stumbling our way to that Great Ark waiting for us at the end of the world. There are few concessions to those of who demand a linear storyline with characters who have motivations and background stories. It could be very off-putting were it not for the way we are impelled to keep watching, even if we are not permitted expectations of any kind. Shot in the lovely seaside and forested areas of Ireland, the stark but lovely visuals are nicely complemented by chamber works by Beethoven, Schnittke, Schostakovich. There is even a brief moment in the city sequence where the strains of Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote are heard. This is the English debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.