(Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) (2015)
At the commencement of the film, David’s unseen wife has told him that she is leaving him for another man. “Does he wear glasses or contact lenses?” David (Colin Farrell) asks incongruently for us but entirely reasonably for him, as will become apparent.
A magnificently affectless Colin Farrell is booked into a dreary hotel for the purpose of finding a mate. He is told that the “bisexual option is no longer available”. No, it’s not a swingers’ or lonely hearts’ hotel, not exactly. In this dystopian state (filmed in Ireland) it is unlawful to be single. David and his fellow singleton “guests” each must fall in love within 45 days (which can be extended by murder) or be turned into an animal. To be matched, one must find a partner with a similar “defining characteristic” which might be a limp, a lisp, a beautiful smile or having “absolutely no feelings at all”. This begs the question of why the guests are simply not grouped according to these characteristics, or why one partner would reveal that the other was faking affection, (which will result in their own singledom). A faker is turned into the animal “no-one wants to be”.
Olivia Coleman is superb as the appallingly creepy Hotel Manager. She croons songs at the awful dances, tells new couples that if they have any problems, they will be assigned children because “that usually helps” and oversees the torture by toaster. Lea Seydoux is also marvellous as the equally sadistic and hard rebel leader. But these are just two stars in an excellent cast.
It doesn’t look like David will “make it”. He runs and joins the rebel Loners who hide in the woods. In this similarly strict community, Loners who enter into romantic relationships risk horrible tortures, one of which is having a hot boiled egg in the armpit.
Rachel Weisz (a Loner, “The Shortsighted Woman”) provides the voice-over in a flat, strident voice and very odd it is too. Similarly the dialogue is stilted and often oblique. This is a drear and tragic world, not unlike that in “Never Let Me Go” or “Eraserhead“. The nods to “1984” are patent and fitting – David stays in room 101 (of course) and is betrayed by his lover in a very similar manner to that in which Winston betrayed Julia.
This is an absurd and funny film. Dialogue gems include, “I just remembered I left some batteries by a tree down there and the last thing I want is to lose them”, and “there’s blood and biscuits everywhere”. The cast must have had a hard time not laughing while filming the horrible pantomimes illustrating the dangers of dining or walking alone. The funniest moment of all is when David and The Shortsighted Woman tie themselves up in knots gesturing wildly and falling over, making increasingly bizarre “secret” signals in an attempt to keep their couple status hidden. Yes, there is humour in this weird and wonderful story, but it is black and Lanthimos does not spare us some ghastly scenes.
The enigmatic ending is in keeping with the film and just as good as it could be. It leaves us wondering. What does David do? We at TVC think that the answer lies in the title and the final sounds over the closing credits.