Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Lobster - nipping away at society's rules about love and relationships and being alone (QFT 23/10-5/11)

Society is so full of rules. We conform to an enormous range of expected behaviours and patterns to fit in and be ‘normal’. Only travel and a knowledge of history helps us realise that there is diversity within these customs … and so many of us travel little and eschew learning about the past.

Imagine a society where being alone is frowned on. Not so hard to imagine is it? Imagine structures and facilities to not-so-gently encourage those lacking companions to avail of one last opportunity to find that special someone before being permanently turned into an animal.

David (played by a moustached Colin Farrell) checks into a ‘hotel’ with his dog. He’s got just 45 days to find a date. Everyone is a solo diner until they graduate to the segregated area for new couples and eventually a yacht moored off the coast to finally test nascent relationships before reintroduction to ‘the city’. Daily exercises, training sessions (that seek to persuade that two are better than one) and dances are interspersed with free time to pursue solo sports.

Whenever the klaxon sounds, everyone grabs their tranquilizer gun and heads to the woods to capture loners who symbolically carry their baggage on their backs and are hiding outside the system.

Olivia Colman plays the harsh hotel manager who dispenses sadistic punishments and delivers deadpan lines that are rewarded with audience tittering:
“A wolf and a penguin can never live together.”

After an hour, David turns the table on himself but finds that his new community has self-imposed and harshly policed rules too. Freed from being forced to find love does not liberate him to find lasting friendship. Scrape away the surface and every system – or clash of systems – has its weaknesses, resistance and back channels. Power corrupts …

The opening scenes of The Lobster are quite disorientating. Then the narration kicks in and it becomes even more disorientating. At times this commentary looks ahead and gives away information about characters you’ll not learn for another half hour. It’s all part of the bewildering dystopian science fiction land that you’ll spend a good two hours enjoying enduring watching.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is not afraid to linger in a scene, keeping the camera steady and allowing unseen characters to speak. And then at the last minute he may throw in a wide shot to ‘establish’ what you’ve been imagining before quickly moving on to the next scene. Unfortunately the second half loses too much of the pace and urgency of the first.

The hotel uniform enforces a consistent look (they could be participating in fascism or in a concentration camp, either metaphor works) while the residents frantically look for common characteristics and flaws in their peers that might show a potential fit for partnership, rather than interlocking complementarianism. The compulsion to be liked and pair off develops a creepiness. Like modern society there is a twisted sexualisation.

But perhaps most disturbing is the ability for people trapped in these systems to rationalise horrifying practices, at once both human and inhumane.

If it all goes wrong, David wants to be morphed into lobster. Can he find a way of leaving the darkness and heading back into the light? Or will pursuit of love catch him like a pincer and draw blood?

With a great soundtrack, a quality cast and lush Irish scenery The Lobster is a film that may make you cling tightly to someone as you leave the cinema, thankful that you’re not exiting into a dystopian world yet afraid that the film’s satire isn’t stretched too far from reality.

The Lobster is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 23 October until Thursday 5 November.

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