RELEASED LAST MONTH, THE LOBSTER HAS SINCE BROKEN THE £1M BARRIER AT THE UK BOX OFFICE.CREDIT: COPYRIGHT (C) 2015 REX FEATURES. NO USE WITHOUT PERMISSION./PICTURE PERFECT/REX SHUTTERSTOCK
21 NOVEMBER 2015 • 7:00PM
It’s Sunday evening and I’m standing in the queue for a screening of The Lobster. Couples gaze romantically into each other’s eyes. “I can’t wait to see this,” a blonde girl tells her date excitedly. A few lone cinema-goers shuffle awkwardly.
But two hours later and it’s a different story. The couples emerge shell-shocked, barely touching. While the singles look rather… triumphant.
Either way, a lot of red wine is drunk in the bar as debate rages about the film, a love story set in the near future, where it’s against the law to be single.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster is the little film that roared. Released last month, as most cinema-goers were awaiting the new Bond movie, it has since broken the £1m barrier at the UK box office.
In The Lobster, singles who don’t find a partner are turned into an animal.
“For the last two nights, it’s outsold Spectre,” says Toby King, cinema manager at Picturehouse Central off Leicester Square. The winner of the 2015 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, it has also been nominated for seven British Independent Film Awards.
So how did an Irish-UK-Greek-French-Dutch co-production become the autumn’s hottest date movie? Or should that be “anti-date movie”?
True it has a stellar cast, including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and Bond girl, Lea Seydoux (who looks a damn sight more interesting here than she does in Spectre).
“In the world of The Lobster, partner compatibility is based on the most superficial similarities: being good at maths, enjoying biscuits, or a shared vulnerability such as a limp”
But, more importantly, the film taps into the fear that society only approves of us if we’re coupled up. And that relying on modern dating apps such as Tinder is just making us feel more lonely and alienated.
“Going to the movies is itself rather like a date, whether it’s with your partner or someone you don’t know well yet, and The Lobster takes that and spins it round in very disturbing ways,” says King.
Certainly, the film’s premise rings wickedly true for singles like me. In The Lobster, when your relationship ends (whether you’re ditched, lovelorn or widowed), you’re expelled from the city and sent to live in a hotel resort, and are given 45 days to find a mate.
Anyone who fails to fall in love during their stay is turned into an animal (lobster, wolf, penguin). One of the funniest moments is when a newly divorced Colin Farrell arrives at the hotel and introduces his dog, Bob, as “my brother, he was here a couple of years ago, he didn’t make it.”
The film satirises the need to define sexuality by tick-box (in the opening scene, a receptionist tells Farrell bisexuality has been abandoned: “This option is no longer available, sir, due to several operational problems”). Surely we deserve a more generous attitude to difference?
“The irony is that many people queuing with their popcorn don’t realise how dark the film is; cinema managers have reported walkouts”
The Lobster is Greek director Lanthimos’s English language debut. But the film’s bold marketing campaign has brought in a mainstream audience who don’t normally go to arthouse films.
Gabriel Swartland, of Picturehouse Entertainment, which co-distributes the film, says: “Our strategy was to build anticipation for the release by pushing the comedic elements of the film without giving too much away. It has a fantastic cast and a pretty bonkers premise: what animal would you be turned into if you couldn’t find a mate in 45 days? We took that idea and got people asking the same question: ‘Have you thought about what animal would you be if you end up alone?’ I like to think that when the film opened, there was a real sense of ‘Have you heard about this bizarre film? I have to go and see it…’”
The marketing team also designed “create your own Lobster hug” cut-out posters and distributed napkins with Colin Farrell’s character’s phone number . A couple of cinemas organised a speed-dating event included with your ticket; turning what some people felt was the worst date movie, into a real talking point – literally.
Because that is the underlying message of this film. We need to talk to each other, engage with each other not rely on ghastly algorithims on online dating sites and apps.
In the world of The Lobster, partner compatibility is based on the most superficial similarities: being good at maths, enjoying biscuits, or a shared vulnerability such as a limp, short-sightedness or constant nosebleeds.
“What’s so clever about the film is that although the smug couples in the hotel are awful, the militant anarchist singles aren’t a lot better”
If you get a match, the new “couple” are sent on a cruise to cement the relationship. Though, as Colman observes dryly, if you find encounter tension or arguments, you can’t resolve, “you will be assigned children – that usually helps a lot”.
As the 45-day ultimatum looms – with no sign of Mr/Ms Right on the horizon – guests can buy extra time by going out to hunt the feral “Loners” (all rooms are equipped with a tranquiliser gun), a group of rebels living in a wood nearby. Eventually Farrell’s character – reeling from a disastrous encounter with the aptly-named Heartless Woman (we’ve all met her) – escapes to join them, and falls for Weisz’s dark-eyed siren.
But what’s so clever about the film is that although the smug couples in the hotel are awful, the militant anarchist singles aren’t a lot better. They too live by brutal rules. Anyone who betrays the group by flirting or kissing is maimed and you are expected to die in an unmarked grave that you dig yourself.
It’s a terrific metaphor for society’s refusal to accept shades of grey in relationships, and it is certainly hitting a nerve. From Bristol to Edinburgh, screenings are packed. I tried in vain to see it on three weekends with friends, only finally managing to sneak in solo on a Monday night screening at 9pm.
The irony is that many people queuing with their popcorn don’t realise how dark the film is; cinema managers have reported walkouts. But it is a relief to see a comedy about more than “boy meets girl”. “Most Hollywood films about relationships aren’t what relationships are really like,” says King. “And this is really playing with that convention, deconstructing it, but with big Hollywood stars.”
* The Lobster is on general release now
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