Yorgos Lanthimos, one of the most talked-about Greek filmmakers right now, is back with a new movie, “The Lobster.” The much-awaited feature is the first Lanthimos has shot outside Greece following his decision to leave his home country and settle in the United Kingdom – most sensible, at least as far as his future as an artist is concerned.
The truth is that Lanthimos was not discovered here at home. His breakthrough came about thanks to foreigners. “Kinetta,” his cinematic debut, came and went in Greece largely unnoticed. It was the people at the Cannes Film Festival who spotted his talent and invested in it in 2009, awarding “Dogtooth” the Un Certain Regard Prize. “Dogtooth” was later nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In May, Lanthimos returned to Cannes, bagging the French festival's Jury Prize.
“The Lobster” starts out as an old-fashioned dystopian fantasy, with a woman driving through the countryside under a drizzling sky. At some point, she stops the car and walks toward a pack of grazing donkeys. She pulls out a gun and shoots one of animals. The movie climaxes with a scene of internalized tension that Luis Bunuel himself would have been proud of. But it is the absurd and the retro stuff that takes place in between these two scenes, however, that also determines the fate of “The Lobster.”
The story takes place in an indeterminate future. Single people are arrested by the authorities and taken to an isolated hotel. Only couples are allowed to live freely. Check-in involves registering gender and sexual preference ahead of the rehabilitation process. Men and women have 45 days to find a partner. During that time, sexual pleasure is prohibited.
In Lanthimos's civilized zoo, as it were, those who fail to find a partner are killed and reincarnated as an animal of their own choice. Subsequently, they are set free in the wilderness – along with the forest-dwelling loners who have escaped the hotel.
The protagonist, David (Colin Farrell), is taken to the hotel along with his brother – now a dog. Later on, he runs away and hides in the forest, where he finds that there too things are far from idyllic. Being in love and expressing sentiment is against the rules of the loners.
In “Dogtooth,” where a man and woman raise their three children in isolation in a villa on the outskirts of a city, we see language being distorted for the purpose of manipulation. The absurd here exposes the perversion: Any contact with the outside, “filthy” world is forbidden in the name of protecting family “purity.” In “The Lobster,” on the other hand, the absurd exposes the need (and the right) of every individual to love and live they way they choose – and not according to set roles determined by a cold dystopia-generating machine.
Lanthimos, and co-writer Efthymis Filippou, always seem to come up with quirky but nevertheless apt titles for their movies, as is the case with this latest film. “The Lobster” is a European cinematic weapon, and pretty effective at that: It's a cinematic form that is capable of shaking things up. However, the extent to which the film manages to drill to the the soul of modern man and explore his angst is debatable. “The Lobster” is lashing out with its flexibility against the conformity of a totalitarian system, much like the one captured by Francois Truffaut in his adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451.”
Lanthimos seems too afraid to leave the aquarium. The first half of the movie prepares the viewer for going off the deep end. But that never happens. The other half – up until the last 10 minutes, which confirm that he is indeed an inventive director – resorts to the repetitive and the trivial. When it comes to the hard stuff, “The Lobster” chooses to hide behind riddles.