Somewhere along the line it feels like European film makers just gave up caring. For decades mainland Europeans treated cinema as a serious art form. They made films that were funny, poetic, exciting. But at some point in the ‘90s – probably around the era for Lars von Trier and Dogme 95’s rise to power – the heart just went out of it. What replaced it was a bitter, depressed and sardonic type of film.
Yorgos Lanthimos is such a film-maker and his latest film The Lobster expresses a contempt for his audience that borders on the sadistic. Telling the story of a man (Colin Farrell) who checks into a hotel for matchmaking after his wife dies, The Lobster plays out in complete deadpan, turning the highly talented cast into mere mannequins. And crash test dummies. The women in particular here are subjected to a barrage of stabbings, suicides, blindings, live burials, basically anything that makes them bleed and squirm in pain.
Like his previous films Dogtooth and Alps, Lanthimos labels the film a comedy, but the jokes are always told with a bullying irony and an elbow in your ribs, smirking “this is fucking dumb, isn’t it?” Like his fellow European misery guts, Lanthimos is so unwilling to pursue original ideas that he slathers his film in heavy-handed literary references for critics to latch on to. Farrell’s character is staying in Room 101, just like the torture chamber in 1984. Also the hotel guests who don’t find matches after a certain amount of time are turned into animals and are subjected to propagandistic plays about how awful it is to be single. It’s all a bit Orwellian in the laziest way possible.
In spite of all this The Lobster isn’t a bad film necessarily. It’s just cruel, uninteresting and completely heartless. Audiences who like being tortured or who don’t care about a good story might still enjoy it. It’s there for the lovers of von Trier, Gasper Noé or those whose taste for grimness and gore wasn’t satisfied by pioneers like Michael Haneke and Aki Kaurismaki.
The rules it builds for its characters don’t make any sense. You’d have to really want to see people suffer to care about the kinds of people who are willing to put up with all the nonsense the film’s characters subject themselves to, first the rules in the hotel for not finding a partner, and later the rules for trying to hook up with someone. It feels like Lanthimos put no thought into building the rules for his world, and for that reason it becomes impossible to care about them.
In Cinemas 16 October 2015. Watch the trailer here.