the age of anxiety and the lobster

the age of anxiety

(‘Liam Scarlett sets Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony no.2, ‘The Age of Anxiety’, inspired by W.H. Auden’s epic poem’ more)

on a bill between two other pieces; we watched the first and bunked the third: dance without a story, unlike music, does very little for me beyond an appreciation of the dancers’ athleticism and training – this evening’s first piece confirmed my philistinism

but the auden is amazing: four people meet in a bar, get drunk, go back to one of the group’s flat, and, after some failed half-hearted sexual attempts on each other, depart in the morning with hangovers; the choreography makes crystal clear (though in ways i can’t verbalise) such subtleties of character, of action, and of changes in the group’s emotional temperature; the final scene, where one of the group dances away into the new york sunrise, is profoundly memorable (though i’d forgotten it from the first time i saw it a few years ago: ask me in a few years’ time)

and here, unlike, for me, some opera, the music matters: i don’t know if the symphony was written to the poem, but certainly the way the music is choreographed makes it seem so

(it might be a multi-tasking problem: when there’s dancing and music i can only really attend to the music; when there’s a story and music it’s the story i follow)

the lobster

(dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

the first scene: a woman drives to a field and shoots one of three donkeys; this is never referred to again

the lobster is a black-mirror-style ’dystopia’, where everyone has to be part of a loving relationship, so single people (single for any reason, including bereavement) have to come to a ‘hotel’ and fall in love in a specified number of days, or get turned into the animal of their choice (the title species is the choice of our hero (colin farrell)) [that characters speculate on how this might be done, and that we never see this happening to anyone, lead some online commentators to wonder whether this is nothing but a threat; but, if zoometamorphosis doesn’t take place, why did the woman shoot the donkey?]; during their stay at the hotel they have to (?daily) hunt each other in the woods with tranquilliser darts – the more ‘kills’, the more days they get to fall in love and avoid zoometamorphosis; but they can’t fake it – relationships have to be validated, usually by each partner sharing a characteristic, like a propensity to have nose-bleeds – just claiming to be in love doesn’t seem to be enough – there seems to be a requirement of the couple having clear grounds for so doing – love (ironically, considering the film’s ending) is not blind

our hero escapes, joins the outlaws, and falls in love with rachel weisz’s character; but the outlaws, who celebrate being single, have equally horrific but different punishments, this time for forming couples, so when their leader suspects farrell and weisz of forming a liaison, she has her blinded to prevent her escape; and when they eventually get away, farrell has to blind himself to be able to stay in the relationship (the shared characteristic: such is our dystopia); and so the film ends

the lobster is an example of the ‘let’s-think-about-our-world-by-changing-a-couple-of-parameters’ motif, e.g. (black mirror passim and) the handmaid’s tale, and countless others, going back at least to swift’s gulliver; so in that sense it is a satire, a (critical) comment on our world; yet it’s not (just, if at all) a critique of the social pressures we are under to couple up, or to conform in other ways – in fact it is only a satire in form or genre; in reality it’s a surrealist piece, creating disturbance by the juxtaposition of the normal/naive/vulnerable and the absurd/horrific

the film’s title supports this: dalí’s archetypically surreal lobster telephone

it reminded me in terms of atmosphere (superficially benevolent edwardian establishment, with very sinister things going on really) of the film version of ishiguro’s never let me go; it’s all faux-naïf, like a very dark wes anderson

How they are related

As usual the obvious obtrudes: coupling up, and the failure to couple up, pervade both works. Both are also stories told in unrealistic modes – ballet and surreal cinema – but which both achieve clarity and power. In the Auden/Bernstein the pressure to get it together is (apart from instinct) alcohol and the excitement of what we presume is a serendipitous encounter; Lanthimos’ characters are driven together through his presentation of an elaborate structure of social expectation and punishment.

And despite the fact that the ballet ends in coupling ‘failure’, and the film in coupling ‘success’, we know which world we’d rather inhabit: the young New Yorkers always have tomorrow night.

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