Cannes Dispatch #3: The Lobster
During a press conference at Cannes this week, Yorgos Lanthimos proclaimed his love for the sitcom Friends. In the show’s second season, the character Phoebe refers to someone finding their “lobster,” i.e., their true love, their mate for life. The single men and women in Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’s fourth feature, The Lobster, seek the same fulfillment, but if they can't find a match in a few weeks, they will be transformed into an animal.
Rules within the rigid world of The Lobster require that the singles, who are confined to a resort hotel, have some defining characteristic that they can match up with a potential paramour. A lisp, a limp, or even frequent nosebleeds are enough for two people to form a bond, find love, and avoid life as a dog, for example, or a donkey.
This darkly comedic framework skewers the state of dating culture today, and the director revealed that the film was highly influenced by the British reality show Hotel. The idea evolved slowly over an extended period of time, through a collaboration with co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou. “We discussed little stories and built it up from there,” Lanthimos said at the press conference.
The director said he hoped the film would, like his other features, have something to say about relationships—romantic ones, in this case. Not that what it has to say is universally agreed upon…
“Everyone interprets it very differently,” actress Rachel Weisz, who co-stars with Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Ben Whishaw in The Lobster, said. “The first thing it makes me think about is narcissism—the fact that you have to fall in love with someone who has similar qualities.”
For other cast members, the film’s ideas and story are more opaque.
“I don’t really feel I know what the film is about,” Whishaw admitted. “I haven’t seen it yet. I suspect that it might be the kind of film that might be different every time you see it.”
“I have no clue what it’s about,” Farrell said. “There’s a sense of the deep loneliness that permeates it. This is the kind of film that just [my] being in it doesn’t mean I know more about it than any other audience member who sees it. I just felt that the texture of loneliness was something that [existed] throughout the script.”
Farrell discovered Lanthimos when he happened upon a theater in Philadelphia that was showing Dogtooth (09). He popped in to watch the film and was impressed. With The Lobster, he was drawn by what he said was “by far the most unique and particular script that I had ever read.”
“I didn’t understand it and am still not sure that I do [now],” Farrell continued. “I found it deeply, deeply moving, and yet there are no emotional peaks in it. None of the dramatic conventions that I have been used to over the years.”
Weisz was also a fan of Lanthimos’s work.
“I just wanted to be in one of his universes. I put myself in his hands,” she said. ”It’s the pursuit of love, in this Lanthimos world. Very Romantic—with a capital ‘R,’ not in our modern way.”
The Lobster is being seen as a big step forward for Lanthimos and has kept people talking throughout this year's edition of Cannes. Having made three films in Greece (read Gavin Smith’s 2009 coverage of Un Certain Regard prize-winner Dogtooth), with this film he’s working with well-known actors and in English for the first time.
“I thought it was time to do something different and progress,” Yorgos Lanthimos explained. “It’s quite limited, what you can do in Greece. I moved to England with the goal of making an English-language film. We approached the film like we’ve approached every other film we’ve done—except this time we were able to pay everyone!”