Aaaah! I'm The Lobster
How two of 2015’s freshest independent cinema offerings reveal the animals within us
Recognisable, yet viciously and deliciously warped, the worlds of The Lobster and Aaaaaaah! are unmistakably versions of our own. In The Lobster, all single people must take part in what is effectively a dystopian, doubly stomach-turning version of The Bachelor – rounded up and placed in a countryside hotel, they must fall in love within an allotted amount of time, or face being transformed into the animal of their choice. Aaaaaaaah!, meanwhile, depicts an alternative London in which humans appear to have regressed to primate status, while still enjoying the modern trappings of retail therapy, lascivious cooking shows and aggressive electronic music. There are no words in the script of Aaaaaaaah!, or at least not English words; the characters communicate exclusively in an ape-like vernacular, which was apparently translated by writer/director Steve Oram from a meticulously scripted English screenplay.
Where The Lobster is neatly filmed with beautifully muted tones, idyllic scenery and shots of hotel stairways that would make Kubrick swell with pride, Aaaaaaaah! is haphazard and messy; the camera careens about, zooming in drunkenly on fridges, tree branches and urine-soaked doorframes. But stripped back from these stylistic disparities, the films share a crucial premise – satirising human behaviour by reducing it to its basic instincts and deconstructing its ingrained, ritualistic nature. Sex is unburdened of any romantic connotations; room service at The Lobster’s hotel includes a daily gyration given by The Maid (Ariane Labed) in order to check the time it takes for guests to get hard, while in Aaaaaaaah!, families sit around the kitchen table, unfazed by the repairman and the mother figure humping aggressively against the washing machine. Both films treat bloody violence, too, as unflinchingly as if it were breakfast. The Lobster, in fact, contains a scene in which the two are calmly merged, when Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) is interrupted mid morning cup of tea by being forced to place his hand in a toaster as a punishment for masturbating. Aaaaaaaah!, meanwhile, sees Smith (Oram) stroll down a busy high street holding a severed arm, which he’s just manually relieved of its owner after a tribal fight in the park. Both scenes are surrounded by onlookers who don’t blink an eye. Violence, copulation, masturbation and, in Aaaaaaaah!’s case, defecation are stripped of their taboo status and worked smoothly into the public daily routine.
The Lobster’s screenplay, unlike that of Aaaaaaaah!, is in English, but seems equally foreign – it’s got a real Google Translate feel about it. The Lobster is, incidentally, Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English film, but I doubt this quirky style is just due to laziness on his part – the detached, deliberate, slightly ‘off’ flavour slots in perfectly with the surreal and clinical world of the film. Phrases are completely devoid of emotion or colloquialism, be they ‘I love you more than anything in the world’ or ‘I kicked your brother to death’. In some ways, the word-free script of Aaaaaaaah! feels more familiar, the range of simian grunts sharing many of the nuances of human vocal interaction. Where Aaaaaaaah! lacks words, The Lobster lacks the flavour behind words, making for two screenplays that strike a heady balance between the alien and the unsettlingly recognisable.
Both The Lobster and Aaaaaaaah! were met by their audience with laughter and palpable squirms in equal measure. Oram and Lanthimos are both clearly skilled at close observation of human behaviour, and their films expertly pick out and exaggerate every minute grotesquery. We may be reluctant to identify with the stilted emotions of The Lobster or the sordid overflow of bestial instincts displayed in Aaaaaaaah!, but both films are disconcertingly pitched in the direction of the familiar to make us realise that even without the Transformation Room of The Lobster’s hotel, we’re animals already. Just ask the man at the cinema ticket office, where I said ‘Hi, can I get a ticket to see Aaaaaaaah!, please?’ He’ll tell you.