Jacques Audiard's film adaptation of THE SISTERS BROTHERS deals with the Wild West becoming a modern world.
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.
We Need to Talk About Kevin. 2011. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Screenplay by Rory Stewart Kinnear & Lynne Ramsay; based on the novel of the same name by Lion Shriver.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Jasper Newell, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette, James Chen and Lauren Fox. BBC Films/UK Film Council/Independent.
Rated R. 112 minutes.
Director Lynne Ramsay has done a couple very interesting films thus far. Her debut feature Ratcatcher is a bleak but important bit of cinema. Her follow-up feature, Morvern Callar, is a beautiful, elegant and atmospheric film with a solid performance from Samantha Norton. Ramsay’s style is at times gritty and realistic, which lends itself excellently to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and others it can take on the quality of dreams, again giving power to her latest work.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is not just powerful filmmaking. It is also incredibly powerful storytelling and writing in general. The novel tackled a viciously sensitive subject in the United States. Five years later, we still hear of school shootings, or mass shootings in general every few weeks, if that. The specter of Columbine will always loom over the U.S. no matter if there was never another shooting at a school again. But the fact it’s become too commonplace in the States is just another sensitive point in this dark tale. However, it isn’t simply the violence which Ramsay focuses on in her film, it is the lead up to the violent act which Kevin commits that takes center stage. Watching this film is a way of understanding the other side, the families of those who commit atrocious acts, and Ramsay dives to the heart of doubt, guilt, and self-hatred with the help of one of the greatest actors of our time, Tilda Swinton, as well as the enormous talent of young Ezra Miller.
Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) has seen better days. Long after the incident which marred her life for eternity, she struggles to find work. She used to be a great travel writer, a cushy job and lots of security. But after her troubled son Kevin (Ezra Miller) murdered and permanently injured many people at his high school, life is a bit rough. Her and former husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) no longer love one another, which really started to happen even before the killing, but ever since Kevin’s hideous acts their relationship is worse.
As Eva struggles to try and make it through her immediate future, we watch the flashbacks of her life, including even the ones she might not want us to witness. We see how Kevin grew into what he became, the monster which walked into that high school and killed people, but more than that we discover why Eva is almost determined to take the abuse thrown at her by strangers, grieving fathers and mothers in the streets. The guilt she feels is due to her relationship with Kevin.
But can we really blame Eva, no matter what she did, for Kevin’s actions?
This film presents us with a moral dilemma. Now, there’s never a point where I once thought Eva should be held responsible for her son’s murderous nature. At the same time, though, we still find ourselves questioning her parenting skills. One of the most interesting scenes, or more so a set of scenes which parallel one another, is when Eva gives birth. The two scenes are juxtaposed at different points in time, but if we remember them together it’s intriguing. First, when Eva has Kevin not only do we witness the pain and struggle she went through during labour, we further see the distant and detached look on her face afterwards, as if Eva knew she were giving birth to a child that would cause her more torment over the years. Later on, after Eva gives birth to her little girl when Kevin is about six-years-old, the mother is happy, holding her child and showering the newborn baby with affection. I find these two scenes amazing in what they suggest. Not that you’ll find it hard to understand all those sentiments in other portions of the film. Almost every scene is weighted down with significance.
A theme I loved here is that of washing blood off of one’s hands, which we see physically represented at various points throughout the film. Such as in the first scene where we’re introduced to the present day Eva; her house and car are covered in red paint, obviously thrown by angry people either connected to the shooting by relation to victims or just people from town who scapegoat her as the mother of a killer. Afterwards, Eva tries to sandblast the paint off her siding, effectively washing the blood off her entire home. Another scene later sees Eva washing a blood-like substance of her hands into the sink, an even better image of her in the vein of Lady Macbeth, only she had no part in Kevin’s murders. She only thinks she did, as a supposedly bad mother. Yet what the whole angle of Eva’s being a good or bad mother presents is this: can we sometimes, in rare cases, actually blame the child for a mother, or father, being hard, uncaring, et cetera? It’s almost as if Kevin pushed her into being the mother she was, bringing on all her anger and loathing. We see both sides, and in the end are left to judge exactly what we feel. Near the end there’s a moment when Eva hugs her son close, perhaps the first time since he was a tiny infant unable to push her away, and you can feel that she does love him. It’s simply that Kevin, from day one as a screeching baby, has made it a tough thing to do.
Both Miller and Swinton give terrific, out-of-the-park performances as troubled son and withered mother. On top of the atmosphere Ramsay conjures up with gorgeous, darkly framed scenes and plenty of intensely raw close-ups, these two actors propel We Need to Talk About Kevin towards near masterpiece. A definite 4.5 out of 5 star film. Each time I see it there is a new disturbing feeling with which I walk away, every time there is something else to catch my eye, and catch the words in my throat to describe how I feel. Swinton is the centerpiece of this wonderful movie and carries much of it on her shoulders alone, even in those silent moments where all we get is her face, her eyes. Although, you can’t forget about Miller either, whose star only rises further and further with each film he takes on. All the elements of Ramsay’s film come together to leave a stone in your gut, in your heart. If you can handle the morbidity, I definitely suggest this as a movie for a rainy afternoon, a dark night, or any time you can handle its at times tough to digest themes.
The story of a woman - many women - who must do the unthinkable in order to save her own daughter from her husband.