Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted a fictional world where people are forced to be couples or else they’re turned into animals. If a person who is single is caught in public, he could be arrested by police. There are other punishments, harsher ones, but this film follows a man who loses his wife of 11 years. He’s then sent to a hotel where he’s forced to find a partner in 45 days or else he’ll be transformed or transferred into a lobster. He brings his brother with him who was turned into a dog. While there, he meets people who struggle to find partners. They either lie and cheat to find someone, so that they don’t become an animal, or they resign their fate. Some even attempt suicide. Some just run away and avoid this society. There is a loophole that if they go out and hunt people who have run away and escaped the hotel, the hunters can extend their 45-day deadline. This film is basically the widowed man as he tries to hunt people and ultimately not become a lobster.
Given this premise, it seems as if Lanthimos is criticizing dating, relationships and even marriage. He seems to be poking at the time restrictions people put on others to find a partner. He also stings why people get together and what they do to stay together. He’s also ripping apart how single people after a while might be seen or treated as animals if they haven’t found someone after an amount of time.
Yet, his criticisms don’t quite fit in the western world in the 21st century. Despite being Lanthimos’ first, English-language film, these criticisms don’t fit in any country where English is the primary language. Not in the United Kingdom where this story is seemingly set and certainly not in the United States which is my perspective.
It only fits in those English-speaking countries, if they all reverted back to how they were 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe there are some European, Asian, Middle Eastern and even African countries in the present where these criticisms are totally appropriate, but in the west where this film is targeted, there is no connection to present day life. This film is very much living in an old world with limited views.
There is a weak attempt for this film to seem modern by giving lip service to homosexuality. Yet, it doesn’t actually follow through by depicting any gay characters. It also makes an awful joke whereby it dismisses bisexuality and those who might be queer or questioning of their preference. It violates what the LGBT community resists and that’s being forced to tick a box.
Putting that aside, all of it could just be an odd premise in order to hang a quirky love story. If so, that’s fine. Watching two people come together in such weird and bizarre circumstances, fighting such extreme measures, can be romantic and exciting. This film doesn’t measure up though to odd romances like Punch-Drunk Love or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The main failing is that Lanthimos wants to immerse us in this strange world but doesn’t do enough to build the world, so it’s difficult to suspend disbelief. All I did was disbelieve, so I could never accept the romance.
What also doesn’t help is the way the actors are directed and the characters are rendered. Everyone behaves almost robotically. I suppose it fits given the clinical nature with which almost everything is treated, but it seems as if Lanthimos has designed the situation for everyone to fail. He does what was the common complaint about the film Divergent.
There is no line drawn connecting the dots that would justify this society’s practices. If the goal is to put everyone into couples, then it’s nonsensical why the parameters would be so limiting. The people have to find partners that are at this hotel. They can’t leave and try to find partners elsewhere. They can’t use the Internet. They can’t put out personal ads. They have to luck upon a compatible person in this small, restricted environment. The odds of success are severely and supremely thin.
It would almost be interesting if that were Lanthimos’ point. His point would be great if he were saying that in general odds of success are supremely thin and that everyone has to fake it or settle for singledom. Yet, that’s not his ultimate point because we have to sit through the ridiculous courtship of David, played by Colin Farrell (The New World and Minority Report), and an unnamed, short-sighted woman, played by Rachel Weisz (pictured above).
David and the short-sighted woman run around in the woods doing hand gestures and speaking in monotonous and not impassioned ways, and it got boring. Why they stayed in the woods with the people they do is not explained. They encounter several, female characters who seem heartless and mean, and there is little reason why. Those female characters are nothing but twisted antagonists for David and the short-sighted woman. Yet, neither work.
One Star out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.
Opens in Salisbury on June 3rd, 2016.