Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest feature-length art house flick certainly isn’t one for the faint-hearted, nor is it a comforting yarn for a rainy day. Beginning in a dystopian hotel-asylum for processing loners and singletons where its guests have an allotted number of days to find a partner before being transformed into an animal and released into the wild, this film only goes on from one level of absurd weirdness to the next.
Picked up and dropped into this bizarre and cruel game is a paunchy-looking, middle-aged Colin Farrell, following the recent death of his late wife, so we’re told. When asked what animal he would choose to morph into, were he to fail at finding a partner/mate/significant other (delete as appropriate) he – in the characteristic deadpan that marks Lanthimos’ work, and which Farrell has down to a tee here – opts for a lobster. Obviously providing the title for the movie, this symbol is as multi-pronged, illogical and conflict-driven a stand-in as Lanthimos would hope for to suit his oddball creation. Farrell’s character explains his choice with an attraction for their aristocratic blue blood, as well as a long life-span – but an important point he fails (or chooses not) to mention is that the lobster has its own very violent and complex mating habits (despite Friends’ best efforts to convince the good, sitcom-watching public otherwise). The crustacean also references Salvador Dali’s surrealist Lobster Telephone, whose anti-rational logic and provocative style make it a pretty apposite key for interpreting this film.
From there, we follow Farrell’s protagonist into a nearby forest-dwelling sect headed by latest Bond girl Léa Seydoux. A lot of what we find in this counter-community, however, are reflections of the hotel’s self-enclosed society, with this new clique’s own set of arbitrary rules and brutal punishments. It’s also here our anti-hero forms an attachment with Rachel Weisz’s character, whose similarly blank, poker-faced voiceover narrates many of the film’s events. The remainder of the movie follows the tragic-comic journey of the pair’s relationship – with a particular focus on the exchange of all the eccentricities and baggage of each individual – while they navigate the treacherous missions of the dissident forest group.
With an all-star cast to boast, The Lobster doesn’t lack much in the way of dramatic firepower with which to realise Lanthimos’ vision (you have to assume that the script and Lanthimos’ reputation were what attracted so many big names to this relatively low-budget production). A small extra bonus of the film as a result of this is that all the different recognisable faces – some more so than others – are pretty fun to pick out, popping up in various places along the movie’s several changes of scene.
Despite the blackness of its comedy, the film is also packed with laugh-out-loud gags, and it’s this humour which provides the fitting vehicle for Lanthimos’ bleak, often incisive social critiques. One example of this that springs to mind comes when Farrell, Weisz and Seydoux visit the latter’s conventional bourgeois parents, under the guise of persuading the family that Seydoux’s character is leading a ‘normal’ life. Seydoux’s father asks Farrell about the organisation he thinks his daughter is working for – “It’s a very good company, isn’t it?” – to which Farrell replies, with brilliant comic timing, “Yes…it’s *erm* one of the best, I hear.” Reproducing it in text doesn’t do the gag anything like the justice it deserves, but in the context of the movie this (entire scene, in fact) is hilarious.
But Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian Review is right in pointing out how the film loses its energy and direction after we leave the initial hotel setting (which itself, he also points out, could’ve made for a great feature-length movie). On top of this, the longer The Lobster goes on, the more you get the sense that many of the film’s own ponderings and criticisms seem to be made at the expense of a more overarching sense of narrative. For my money, other art house films made in the same vein over the past few years have been better able to balance their comedy – or entertainment – factor along with their more hard-hitting observations, as well as overseeing the development of a someway unifying story.
In spite of The Lobster’s many strengths, there is simply too much going on here. The film fizzles out to the point of near-tedium and to some extent loses its initially powerful alienation shock value – a shame given how arresting its opening half an hour is. But the good things about this bitter pill of a movie definitely outweigh the bad, which makes it a worthwhile watch in the end – though, maybe not if you’re having one of those days (i.e. if you’re looking for a hangover cure, stick to Netflix.)
By Tommy Greene
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