The Lobster Review

Posted: August 9, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

colin-farrell-in-the-lobsterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Whether you’re a film critic, internet fanboy, or casual moviegoer, the phrase “originality” is one that is inevitably mentioned a lot when discussing cinema. Sometimes it’s used in a very technical sense, wherein “original” simply refers to an intellectual property that isn’t based on pre-existing source material. Other times, the adjective is used in a more qualitative sense, sometimes referring to a film with a unique high concept, or a familiar concept with a creative spin or style which makes it seem fresh. However when it comes to plots, there are schools of thought which suggest that when you really break it down there are only so many different kinds of stories and any work, no matter how seemingly “original”, will still fall into one of these types. I bring all this up because originality is one of the primary aspects at the heart of Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest film The Lobster. With its insane high concept, absurd dystopian future, and bizarrely deadpan style, The Lobster is one of the most original films I’ve seen in a long time and I mean that in every sense of the word.

The film is set in a future where adults who are single are sent to a resort called The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find themselves a partner. If they not find themselves a partner within that time, they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. Our entry point into this world is David (Colin Farrell), recently divorced after discovering his wife’s adultery who has decided to become a lobster if he fails to find a partner. David does not wish to be an animal, but he does not connect with any of the women at The Hotel at instead sparks a friendship with a man with a limp (Ben Whishaw) and a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly). However as the clock ticks down David will eventually make a series of crucial decisions which will radically change his stay and indeed his life.

Given the absurd nature of this future it’s pretty clear The Lobster is not meant as a plausible vision of what our future could be in the vein of something like Blade Runner or Interstellar. Rather, this is perhaps best viewed as an experiment in style and as allegory, but an allegory for what? Well, the most obvious subject is Western society’s obsession with forcing people into monogamous relationships and eventual domesticity regardless of whether or not that’s what a person wants. It’s also worth noting that the film is not just focusing on a single man, but a divorcee. In real life, a lot of divorced adults seem to find themselves pressured back into the dating scene quickly rather than having time to themselves and indeed a lot of media criticizes those for not “getting out more”. Of course, part of the reason adults tend to feel this pressure is due to a fear of aging, and in this case a fear that if they do not find someone soon they will be too late. This manifests itself literally in The Lobster’s 45 day time limit which ends with the person becoming an animal incapable of a human romance.

The crucial flaw to this allegory is simply that societal obsession with traditional monogamy is actually in the decline. It is still the norm within society I suppose, but people seem to be more and more open minded to the idea of not getting married, whether that be less traditional relationships or bachelorhood for life. That’s not to say the allegory is totally irrelevant as the standardization of marriage and domestic bliss is still seen as the norm, but it maybe lacks the punch it might have had were it made earlier. Of course, there are other allegorical readings one can make, including a more general one of conformity; the way people blindly accept and repeat traditions or customs even though it’s clearly they are not ethical or particularly logical. This is not only shown through the rigid structure of The Hotel, but also through another group who supposedly rebel against what The Hotel stands for but of their own weird rituals with which they are dedicated to. The film’s ending also speaks to conformity in an interesting way.

The real Achilles Heel of The Lobster isn’t any holes in whatever allegory at play but the fact that there is a pretty significant quality drop between the first and second half. It is in the first half that we spend exploring the inner workings of The Hotel which are interesting not just for any allegorical elements, but simply to see the details of this interesting world. There’s certainly a disturbing undercurrent to everything, but also something darkly humorous. I hesitate to call this a laugh riot, but The Lobster is an absurdist comedy and there are some big laughs to be had. It’s not just the absurdity of the world that’s funny though, it’s the dead pan reactions of the cast. Unfortunately a lot of this starts to slip away in the second half when the focus shifts away from The Hotel. The world exploration is less extensive, the jokes become less frequent/less funny, and the supporting characters played by Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly largely disappear. That last point is somewhat offset by the increased presence of great actresses like Rachel Wiesz and Lea Seydoux, but their characters are not as interesting or fun to watch as Whishaw’s and Reilly’s. Granted, the second half still has a lot of strong points and is by no means bad, but it’s also a clear step down from the first half and is stretched a bit too long.

The Lobster is far from perfect, but it’s always admirable to see something so unapologetically weird in cinema and that alone is worth praise. There’s a lot of creativity here and Lanthimos continues to prove himself to be one of contemporary world cinema’s most promising and unique voices. This is probably his best looking film and he also gets a lot of unique performances from some really famous actors. Most importantly though, Lanthimos nails the tone, creating something humorous and also thought-provoking. I definitely think this could have been a lot better, but The Lobster remains one of the most creative films I’ve seen all year and something every film buff should give a look.

B

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