Friday, June 17, 2016

Claw of Desire

Year: 2016
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly
Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

The Lobster is a preposterously divisive movie. The two movie review blogs I follow religiously gave it a 10/10 and a 0/10 respectively. The patrons at the theater I work at either walk out halfway through or come back for second and third helpings. It’s like – for lack of a better comparison – seafood. Some people despise the taste, but others can’t get enough. So with all this debate raging, of course I had to dive in there for myself and see what all the hubbub was about. 

Did I enjoy The Lobster? No. Do I regret it? Well, mostly.

I’m not allergic to shellfish, but I might be allergic to art films.

In The Lobster, love is mandated by law. Newly single people in The City are sent to The Hotel, where they must find a mate within 45 days or else they are turned into an animal. They also must hunt single refugees known as Loners who live in The Woods. If my disdain for all these oh-so futuristic capital letters isn’t already palpable, let me make it clear that the only thing stopping me from vomiting all over my keyboard right now is the fact that I really don’t feel like cleaning it.

One of these single people is David (Colin Farrell), a schlubby man whose wife has left him. While he struggles to find someone with whom he shares a Defining Characteristic, he ends up desperately pairing with a psychopath (Angeliki Papoulia) before escaping to The Woods and striking up a furtive courtship with Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), igniting the ire of the strictly anti-partnership Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux).

Another thing I absolutely adore is movies that don’t give their characters proper names. More, please!

I see what The Lobster is doing. I really do.  A society that focuses so fundamentally and grotesquely on pair-bonding is shallow and conformist, with no wiggle room to be an individual. In terms of achieving the film’s intended effect of muting all personality from its characters and design, it’s a masterpiece of intention. The ensemble is perfectly cast, especially Colin Farrell, who intimately understands the mechanics of his severely isolated role and knows how best to wring comedy from the character when he can.

The world-building of this incredibly unique setting is likewise terrific, dumping you in with no context and allowing you to uncover the depths of detail as the movie progresses. It’s not quite as rich in history as the production design of a Mad Max: Fury Road, but it gets the job done with ethereal efficiency. And the beginning is an absolute winner, slamming you into the story with a gonzo, out-of-context image that leaves you slavering for more (although, the more you learn about this film’s world, the less sense this scene makes).

So while I see the point of The Lobster and understand the polished mechanics that make it tick, that doesn’t mean I see why anybody would find themselves entertained by this droning didacticism.

Ooh, burn! This Lobster is getting BOILED!

The Lobster is so subdued that it practically fades out of existence. It’s like absurdism on tranquilizers, the monotonous performances and color scheme relentlessly pounding your brain with a sledgehammer of boredom. It’s got the pace of a Kubrick film, the flatly literal dialogue of Invention of Lying, and the music of a murder mystery, the atonal shrieks only highlighting how uninteresting everything you’re watching actually is.

For the entire film, it feels like you’re in a doctor’s waiting room, wondering if they’ve forgotten about you. Then as soon as there’s a knock on the door and you perk up, the film ends. After all, they can’t let us get too excited, or else we’ll start to think this is a fun movie. As much as The Lobster claims to be a black comedy, it does everything in its power to stile any and all joy. The scattered chuckles that escape are almost incidental, owing to the fact that there really is a great concept at the heart of this story. Only one singular moment made me laugh out loud, and I get the sense that the movie actively lamented my enjoyment, because it immediately doubled down on ponderous contemplation and a liberal slathering of slow motion.

Seriously, entire scenes of The Lobster are slomo. Not just key action moments (ha! Like it has any), but full minutes. Minutes upon minutes of pretentious napalm, obliterating the pacing and tearing the storyline to shreds. Watching The Lobster is like being trapped in a nightmare. Your feet move like molasses as you run toward an exit that glides further and further away. And anytime something even microscopically interesting happens, it’s immediately chucked from the film like so much dead weight. The biggest conflict in the movie (between the Loners and The Hotel) is never resolved. Even though we see the two sides briefly clash, these scenes are immediately forgotten and never followed up on.

It’s like listening to your grandfather tell a story.

The most extravagantly frustrating thing about The Lobster is that every now and then it shows flashes of asthmatic brilliance. It never exerts itself too much, but the occasional brutality nestled in this world of soft apathy is jarring and gut-wrenching in a magnificent way. One scene depicting the crowd’s blasé reaction to a particularly maudlin act of self-harm is coldly stunning, like an ice-chilled scalpel slicing down your spine. And then of course the film returns to flatly droning about how to properly launder a stain or the comparative weight of different sports equipment.

I GET IT. I do. But The Lobster really needs to take a chill pill. It’s so far up its own ass that it can see daylight. Everything good about the film (and there really is a lot of potential here) is quietly smothered with a scratchy, off-white pillow. I can see why this movie appeals to the Lonely Heart cinephiles of the world, but care as little about The Lobster as it does about me, or any of humanity for that matter.

TL;DR: The Lobster is a monotonous ordeal that stifles a pretty excellent absurdist premise.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1055


  1. I don't know man, I loved this movie. Other movies this year, like 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Green Room left me with a gut feeling of excitement as they push cinematic boundaries and go places other films don't dare go. For me, The Lobster is also one of those films. I thought it was very funny, but extremely thought provoking as well. Much like Her, I loved how it used the framework of a dysotopian sci-fi to tell a story about love, and from all angles of it as well. I loved how its shock value separated it from the pack, as those add a unique charm and flavor to the film. Lots of people have been telling me they hated this movie or down right didn't care for it, and that's cool dude, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But I just flipped for this one.

    1. I totally respect that! I never want anyone to have a bad time at the movies. I did not speak to me, but I totally understand how it works for everyone else.