Nothing is too absurd for Yorgos Lanthimos. With his lauded 2010 feature "Dogtooth," the Greek director proved to be one of the most daring social satirists working today, leaving no taboos unturned in an attempt to mock the dysfunctional modern family. Now, Lanthimos is back with his newest effort, "The Lobster." Like "Dogtooth," it’s a black comedy that inhabits the surreality of an extreme premise. But "The Lobster" is decidedly larger in scope. Nearly two hours long, it depicts a dizzying totalitarian world full of bizarre rules and even weirder characters (played by the likes of Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux and John C. Reilly).
The target this time around? Romance.
"It all starts from a little thing," said Lanthimos following a New York Film Festival screening of the film. "This time I wanted to do something about relationships, and how people are under so much pressure to be successful in that domain." Lanthimos said that modern romance is a minefield of expectations and rules, many of which are arbitrary. "You find certain ways of justifying why you make certain choices in relationships," he said. "You tell yourself why you can approach someone, be with someone, leave someone. Pushing that to extremes in this movie enhances our understanding of relationships."
The world of "The Lobster" is extreme indeed. In the dystopian future, being single is illegal. When a person becomes single or cannot find a partner, he or she is required to check into an institutional "hotel."
"We started with the idea of the hotel," said Lanthimos. "When you become single, you have to go to a hotel and find someone. Then we started coming up with all the rules, restrictions and pressure — that you have to find someone in certain amount of time, and what happens if you don’t."
What happens is that the bachelor or bachelorette gets turned into an animal of their choice. "We just followed logic after we set up the premise," said Lanthimos to a crowd that chuckled at the relative absurdity of the claim.
"We came up with the world outside the hotel because we felt the world wasn’t complete without it," said Lanthimos. "We knew there would be people out there who had different ideas, wanted to live differently, and were rebelling against the system." The rogue community, however, has its own set of oppressive rules. "We’re interested in the irony of someone who tries to escape a certain kind of system ending up having to become a part of another," said Lanthimos.
In this sense, "The Lobster" is as much about dissidence as it is about satirizing relationships. "People follow completely absurd rules," said Lanthimos. "You get used to it because you’re educated in a certain way. Many years can go by and people don’t question. That’s how it’s done. That’s the way it is. But if you distance yourself from it, you can realize how absurd some of the things that we consider normal are."
"We’re not really interested in just representing reality on film," Lanthimos continued. "We always try to structure a world that can lead us to explore themes under extreme conditions and reveal the absurdity of our everyday lives and how ridiculous and how horrible and how wonderful it might be."
When asked which kind of animal Lanthimos would have chosen to turn into, he said, "I’d like to be some kind of bird. You know, to fly around."
"Because you’re a free spirit?" asked the audience member.
"No," said Lanthimos. "I just like flying!"