Our fascination with dystopian subjects in literature and in cinema has always been strong, even though, considering the current events going on around us, one could say we are experiencing an absurd, cruel type of reality first-hand; one no movie can compete with. Last year's internationally co-produced black comedy drama #TheLobster plays with the dystopian in a way we have not seen before. It is scary and violent, just like the real world, but this feature will also make you laugh and think about relationships, love and society's conventions.
Imagine a world where having a partner is mandatory. In case you break up a relationship or your significant other dies, you have to go to a hotel where in 45 days you have to find someone suitable enough to continue living with. Those who fail get turned into an animal of their choice - how generous! The ones who refuse to play by the rules and have managed to escape have formed a community in the woods where the number one rule is to stay single. Even flirting is severely punished.
The script's originality is unquestionable, but the general atmosphere along with character relations have instantly reminded me of Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 sci-fi noir, #Alphaville in which a secret agent Lemmy arrives from 'the Outlands' on a mission to destroy the city and its dictatorial leader – the Alpha 60 computer that controls everything. Although it's a completely different genre and has a slightly darker overall tone, the unattractive version of life in the future is created through sterile environment, robotic behavior and superficial, meaningless conversations that sound like someone is reading a phone book. The same feeling of alienation, loneliness, lack of emotions and strict rules are present in both films. Although Alphaville's plot is set in the future it's not trying to escape from at the time current 20th century events and references. The Lobster can be understood as being placed the future, but there are no evidences of technological progress over time, except for the fact that turning a person into any animal seems like the simplest thing in the world, but we wouldn't call that progress or development in a real sense of the word anyway.
Right at the start of The Lobster we are introduced to a story through the method that is typical for documentaries, the voiceover narration which, in this case, doesn't have an informative function, but delivers 'captain obvious' moments of describing what the viewer already sees. It may sound like an inappropriate, annoying storytelling technique, but it blends nicely with the film's style and even adds an element of charm and humor. This is another element that brings us towards the resemblance to Alphaville, in this case the voiceover narration is delivered through Alpha 60's monologues, those are the moments created to enhance our impression of power and total control it has over the city.
The Lobster's plot revolves around David, who has just been dumped by his wife and is placed in the singles hotel to find a new one. He is accompanied by his brother, a dog who went through the same procedure of finding a partner, but obviously didn't make it. Apart from the main character, the others are referred to by their most prominent flaw or characteristic - a bleeding nose woman, a man with the lisp, a man with the limp, a biscuit woman etc. The bizarre part is that they are all obsessed with looking for a partner with the same characteristic because that is how they estimate their compatibility and it's perfectly logical to them.
David is an interesting character, calm and confused at the same time, not showing too many emotions, especially at the beginning when he seems apathetic and distant. After he falls in love with a loner (Rachel Weisz), a woman who is nearsighted just like him, their forbidden relationship becomes the centre of the plot which gives us a satirical version of the naive, heartwarming romantic love story. This may be one of Colin Farrell's best roles, also the one that took a lot of physical preparation because he (in)famously gained 40 pounds to be able to give a realistic portrayal of a middle - aged, unhappy man. All in all, it's no surprise that he got a #GoldenGlobe nomination for it.
Moreover, Orwell's 1984, which is directly present in Godard's film, can be recognized in The Lobster as well. Even though there is no Big Brother-inspired figure, there is a set of precisely defined rules that need to be followed or the person will have to face a brutal punishment.
Rules often get updated. For example, David is told he can no longer choose to register himself as bisexual, because
"This option is no longer available since about last summer due to several operational problems".
It reminded me of Alphaville's character Natacha (Anna Karina) talking about how almost every day some words disappear because they are forbidden and replaced by new words expressing new ideas, that's why she doesn't know what 'love' means. She is sad because some words she liked very much have recently been banned from the Bible (vocabulary). Individualism and free thinking are practically non-existent while conformity is a virtue – seeing couples in The Lobster walking in line through a shopping mall while being supervised by the police channels the same, the only tolerable image of the society.
In Alphaville, it is forbidden to ask 'Why?', and that is generally accepted until a newly arrived character Lemmy starts to question it. The unlucky Lobster characters may seem too calm to the viewers, like they are at peace with their horrible destiny, but we forget how easily we accept our own reality and things that are imposed on us, no matter how absurd. The obsession with 'finding a perfect partner' in order to seem normal or successful can be easily linked to our reality, as well.
Both of these amazing films, The Lobster especially, can make us laugh at times, but also be a bit frightening because they show an exaggerated version of our life, the one we can imagine happening sometime in the future, or maybe feel parts of it happening right now. It is great, however, to see Godard reference's in this modern, different approach to the subject of distorted, futuristic reality.
Why do we love watching dystopian, unpleasant world versions on the screen? Share your thoughts or favorite examples in the comments below!