Flanagan's 2011 indie ghost story is a modern Gothic, destined to be a classic of the genre in years to come.
Electricity. Good v Evil. Murder. Abuse. Existential pain. Masks. Doppelgangers.
This is the world of TWIN PEAKS.
The Lobster. 2015. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Screenplay by Efthymis Filippou & Lanthimos.
Starring Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Colin Farrell, Rosanna Hoult, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Ewen MacIntosh, Imelda Nagle Ryan, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Rachel Weisz, & Ben Whishaw. Film4/Irish Film Board/Eurimages.
Rated 14A. 118 minutes.
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of those writer-directors I wouldn’t consider palatable to everyone. Of course he has his fan base, after people discovered his uniquely odd stories and compelling way of directing them onscreen. But still, even with a movie featuring performances from big names such as Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, among others such as great character actors like John C. Reilly and the equally wonderful Michael Smiley, The Lobster both defies universal appeal and also fully concrete explanation. It isn’t one of those arthouse films that is completely unable to find explanation. Rather, Lanthimos has a definitive idea of what the story is, what it means, its implications. Yet it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.
If you’ve ever seen anything by Lanthimos, you’ll know his style is abrasive, disturbing, unsettling. It’s also very thrilling if you let his atmosphere and tone set in. They aren’t easy films to digest. For instance, I personally hated his weird indie darling Dogtooth; it absolutely just did not work for me, and I even gave it a couple chances. His 2011 follow-up Alps was much more intriguing to me. Although it’s not much less weird, if at all. Through both these pictures, never mind how I feel about the first, his strangeness settles in and you start to understand, and expect, the oddities he brings out with each subsequent movie. The Lobster is an exceptional work of romance and science fiction mashed into the oddest of stories. Lanthimos works it into a genuinely magical cinematic experience that is both beautiful and a scary prediction of how a society exhibiting unhealthy preoccupations with the personal (and sexual) relationships of its citizens can breed a confusing existential situation for those who feel they exist outside the system. At the bottom of its intentions, The Lobster is a story which stands for love against all odds, love at any cost – love, love, love!
The marriage industrial complex has run wild in Lanthimos’ screenplay. In this dystopian future, not far off, being single is reprehensible. Is it because of sociopolitical views? It is out of necessity in a society where human life is waning and procreation is a must? Who knows. But this vision of society’s trajectory imagines the fixation on coupling, the idea that people must find a partner in order to live a human life, as having gone to the extreme. If these people at the Hotel cannot find themselves a mate they’re cast off, turned into animals. It’s hilariously absurd. Initially, the singles are cast out of society, literally ejected from the city and brought to the Hotel. After David (Farrell) experiences a divorce, he finds himself whisked off and given his societal ultimatum, forced into finding someone to live the rest of his life with – again – or else wander the wilderness. The even greater hilarity comes out of David and his decision to become a lobster, should he be cast out into nature.
What’s most intriguing is how everything people feel pressure about from society’s expectations becomes amplified. Now the threat of losing hair is suddenly the number one superficial threat against finding a partner. A sad conversation between David and a woman verging on her last night at the Hotel sees her questioning his possible future hair loss, bringing out a truly depression scene that’s also darkly funny. The entire thing is dark and comedic; sometimes one more than the other. And that’s part of The Lobster‘s appeal is the delicate balance between pitch black plot and the almost effortless, riotous comedy of the dialogue and interactions between characters.
Heartless Woman: “There‘s blood and biscuits everywhere”
David: “I hope she dies right away. On second thought, I hope she suffers quite a bit before she dies. I just hope her pathetic screams can‘t be heard from my room. Because I was thinking about havin‘ a lie down. And I need peace and quiet. I was playin‘ golf and I‘m quite tired. The last thing I need is some woman dying slowly and loudly.”
The dystopian horror of this future is not so much the almost quarantining of single people, forcing them into choosing a mate. More so it is the existential horror of being forced into molding oneself to the whims of someone else. And essentially, that is the bending of our personal will to society. David and the Heartless Woman are driven together, eventually discovered to be futile after David shows emotion – because she kills his brother – and they find out he’s let societal expectation push him to a fake love. In a sense, David is like the escaping prisoner trying to execute the plan to escape his chains. Likewise the Limping Man (Whishaw) also gets into a relationship under false pretense, only his is a bit easier to hold up against scrutiny. Regardless, the point is the same. People are pushed into relationships by the state’s system and they manufacture neat little families, fit for procreation, economic consumption, and so on. This is the ultimate dystopian element is that society is controlling every last aspect of life, down to the family, down to sexual impulse and control. One fo the more horrifying moments, to me, is when the Lisping Man (Reilly) is caught for frequent masturbation in his room; as everyone sits around eating their meals in the big dining hall, the Hotel Manager (Colman) and her waiters come out, burning his masturbation hand in a toaster.
Yet for all the Hotel/society’s madness, once David gets himself out into the forest and meets the rebel group, the Loners, he discovers there’s as much madness out there, too. People are subjected to the Red Kiss if they’re found flirting or kissing, et cetera: each person has their lips sliced open with razors, then they are forced into a kiss. Yikes. Worse than that, there’s something alluded to as the Red Intercourse. Not explained, though as the Loner Leader (Seydoux) suggests we can easily figure that out on our own. So even as David escapes the Hotel, the Loners are equally as strict. The movie has as much to comment about rebel and dissident groups as it does on the controlling arm of society.
While the Loners fight that good fight, their methods are no less controlling, nor are they any less cruel; in fact, their punishments are almost a little more hardcore than even the nastiness of the Hotel. So in a way, the Loners represent the idea that in this dystopian world being single is just as horrific as being forced into/doomed to a married life, willed into companionship. And above everything else thematically, Lanthimos expresses the futile existential struggle of worrying about whether or not finding a life partner is the be-all end-all of our existence on Earth. Because in the end, neither option is good for everyone. You cannot prescribe a system for discovering a lover, a lifetime friend and soulmate. It happens differently for different people, and the more society puts a hold on traditional, cookie cutter relationships the closer we get to a dystopian nightmare like The Lobster. This is why the burgeoning relationship between David and the Short Sighted Woman (Weisz) represents something outside the box. They’re drawn together outside the normal systemic process of relationships. And even though the Loners don’t approve, they still do it, so there’s no small box where these two can be crammed in and defined. They find love on their own terms. On secret missions to the city they’re even required to act like lovers, to make their appearance feel real and proper to anyone looking on. So within the system, and outside, they work towards a lasting, loving relationship. At least until the end where we’re left with an ambiguous moment: does David make the final commitment, or does he run from this relationship like the last to try and find another one? There’s no telling. I like to think he took the plunge, dedicated to his loving partner for all time; no matter what.
This is one of my favourite films of 2015. A veritable 5-star work of cinema. Lanthimos allows a romance to come out here while simultaneously exploring his vision of dystopian future. Some dystopian fiction feels far off. Somehow, Lanthimos makes The Lobster feel odd and science fiction-like in a social setting, all the while giving it a feeling that this is a future so close that it’s eerie. There are moments of very futuristic thought in terms of social and romantic relationships, as well as deeply affecting scenes of emotion. With people turning into animals, a rebel group living amongst the forest, a Hotel where singles are imprisoned in order to find a husband or wife, Lanthimos has a distinct concept of a couple-obsessed society where the government has completely breached the wall separating the bedroom and the state. While many might find this movie, and others like it, off-putting or too strange to enjoy, for those willing to get weird this is a fascinating work of art. Totally worth the experience.
Ich seh, Ich seh (English title: Goodnight Mommy). 2015. Written & Directed by Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz.
Starring Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, and Lukas Schwarz. Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH. Rated R. 99 minutes.
This is a film I’ve anticipated ever since first hearing the premise. Almost had sort of a fairytale-like feel to it. Finally getting a lucky chance, I was able to experience this dark and dreamy feature film. Goodnight Mommy, a superb Austrian film, indeed has atmosphere like that of a fairytale story. Within a horror there is a deep family drama – two boys against their mother, or whoever might have taken her place. Surprising me at nearly every turn, Goodnight Mommy has the ability to shock, but the script is wonderfully complex and the characters just as strong.
While I say that it can shock, I don’t mean that it’s an “arthouse shocker” as it is described on the poster. I think that’s a bit of a misleading label. There’s nothing arthouse about this one. That being said, there are plenty of surrealist moments present throughout, as well as a ton of horror imagery. But I think by calling it arthouse that not only misleads audiences, it also misrepresents this film overall. There is both psychology and horror at play in Goodnight Mommy, and it just so happens there is plenty of atmosphere and style in heaping portions, which helps everything else along quite nicely.
The movie starts as two twins, Elias and Lukas (played by twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz), are about to see their mother home for the first time since her cosmetic surgery. Out from the darkness of her room comes their mother (Susanne Wuest) bandaged beyond recognition, bits of her swollen face showing puffy through the wraps here and there. However, she doesn’t seem to them to be the same mother she always was, and there is something very much Other about whoever this woman might be.
As we twist and turn through the dreamy world of directors/writers Severian Fiala and Veronika Franz, the twin brothers plunge into a world this mother – or Other – and the darkness surrounds them all, leading to a shocking and most horrifying conclusion.
The two male siblings are like inseparable twins out of folklore tales. Introduced into their world is a mother whose face is unrecognizable – at least in the beginning – which begins the film’s exploration of identity, attachment, trust, and truth. Right away the family plays a game – everyone takes turns putting a sticky note on their forehead & trying to guess who they are – which automatically seems to set the two boys in stark opposition with their mother. As if she isn’t even their mother at all, but an impostor. I thought the scene was surprisingly tense for such an early juncture.
There’s an excellent tone from the start, as we’re thrown into a family dynamic which was obviously a little flawed to begin with. However, even before the boys somewhat confirm any supspicions there’s a feeling that something is out of place. Everything feels a bit strange. Helps cultivate a nice mood of dread.
I love when a film can throw me off and subvert my expectations. Around every corner of each frame, it feels as if there lurks the unimaginable. We move along in a feverish dream state, just as the boys seem to; caught between sleep and reality. The boys, outside and free, feel in the land of the living. Their mother looks to be stuck in a nightmare, locked in her room and gazing at her new self in the mirror.
The juxtaposition of the darkness versus the light in Goodnight Mommy is astounding and works perfectly. In the world of those shadows, the boys’ bandaged and Other-ish mother is Queen. Outside in the fresh air and the light, the boys are happy and safe. Inside with their mother and the darkness, the air is threatening.
“Show us your birthmark”
Then comes a beautifully twisted scene in the form of an actual dream. Highly creepy. It involves the mother in the woods; don’t want to say much more, you must see it for yourself. There are several macabre and wonderful dream sequences, spooky bits. What I enjoy so much is that at times it’s tough to initially distinguish between the genuine dreams and the dream-like atmosphere of the film’s reality.
To say any more about the film’s plot would be to do it/anyone reading a disservice. I’d not expected all that came out of Goodnight Mommy, when so much intense and wild stuff did I found not knowing much of anything heading in made the experience much richer. There’s a lot happening here and it isn’t simply a bit of shocking horror, there’s real substance. Above all else, Goodnight Mommy has the earmarks of pure existential horror. What starts as a worry their mother has changed because of her cosmetic surgery becomes, for her sons, an existentialist struggle when they feel under threat.
“Where is our mother?”
The final 30 minutes are certainly disturbing, intense, and downright horrific at times. From a dream-like state we are brought abruptly, raw into a bright and realistic world now where the boys are King, instead of the shadows where they near cowered earlier. I thought that’s one of the biggest strengths of the film. It reminds a bit of Proxy, which in turn reminded me of Psycho, in terms of how the story’s structure and focus almost seems to realign itself over the course of the film. With Goodnight Mommy, we start in one perspective, but by the last half hour we’re ready to switch over to the other side. By the film’s finish, this is a truly effective method which the directors used and I think it ultimately paid off.
Some might believe the end twist is foreseeable. Honestly, I never once saw it coming. Masterful storytelling. While it’s a similar ending to other films we’ve seen, the end is justified by its means. You watch and get sucked into everything that’s going on, then the climax crashes down on top of you. The journey is what it’s all about – the end simply hammers home the psychological reality of all the horror happening surrounding the boys and their mother.
Acting is fantastic, from the boys, as well as the mother.
Especially in the first half of the movie, I thought both Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz did a wonderful job as the confused and fearful twins. They really did great work here, as you can feel the bond between them while also seeing how lost in a confused haze they’re becoming, not sure if their mother came home or if this person really is some Other. This is the only film these two kids have ever done, as far as I know, so that’s something else pretty amazing. I’ve seen reviews say their performances were flat, however, I don’t see it that way. Certainly once the ending hits you, the retrospective look at their characters provides enough to understand why the boys are the way they are. So give it time, they’ll grow on you and get you by the finale.
Even more so, Susanne Wuest is absolutely unbelievable in Goodnight Mommy. Her role, as well as those of the boys, twists and turns. At times, mostly at first, you’re never sure where her character will go. By the middle and a little further, you’re pretty sure; even if you’re not, the results are terrifying. She did a lot of excellent stuff while her face was bandaged, but definitely once they’re off she pulls out an emotional, intense performance to match the plot’s own intensity tenfold.
Hands down, a 5 star drama-horror with some surreal elements.
I’d waited so long to finally see this and it was well worth the wait. Cannot wait until this gets a wider release, as well as a nice Blu ray. I’ll be snatching that up as quick as humanly possible. When I get the chance to see this again, it would be great to examine it more at length, see it a couple times. It’s that great a film. Again, some say the ending is like “all the others”, and in a way it is, but the entire thing is so refreshingly inventive and interesting that it makes the entire journey worth it. An incredible ride, all on “glorious 35mm” as it says in the end of the credits. See this once you can and enjoy every last mortifying second.