The Lobster (2016)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos (Alps, Dogtooth)
Synopsis: Absurdist dramedy set in a dystopian future where being single is basically unlawful to the point that any person without a mate is given 45 days to find a partner or is turned into an animal of their choosing.
What works/doesn’t work: Usually for our Reel Quicks we break down what works and what doesn’t work in favor of the film. However, with such an usual and idiosyncratic movie like The Lobster, I want to bring up the point that this film is both horrible AND superb depending on your mood. But that’s actually putting it mildly and being glib about it.
Let me begin this tough task of reviewing this film by saying I feel like this is a movie that was the brainstorm of mixing the styles of Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick and Neil Breen. (If you don’t know who Neil Breen is, I suggest you watch this) I don’t know any other way to describe it. I actually saw this twice—sort of. Me and the wife put this on one evening and I kept dozing off while she (miraculously) stayed up the whole time. From what I saw the first time I couldn’t stand it. My wife thinks its the worst movie she ever saw (But really, what does she know? She never even seen a Neil Breen movie). In fairness, I rewatched it a few days later and decided it may have something going for it. I think this movie was written from someone not of this Earth. The dialogue is so weird and pointless in most scenes and spoken so monotonously that it actually bothered me, but only if I take this movie seriously. Which, in all fairness, I cannot. Not with dialogue like this:
Can I come to your room sometime for a chat? I could give you a blowjob. Or you could just fuck me. I always swallow after fellatio and I’ve got absolutely no problem with anal sex if that’s your thing. My ex-husband always used to say I had the most beautiful thighs he’d ever seen, but let’s not talk about him.
That line was spoken by a homely woman who was desperately trying to get Colin Farrell to pick her as a mate. In the film, days later she kills herself by jumping out the hotel’s window. So let me go more into the plot details of this movie before I go further. Colin Farrell has recently been left by his wife for another man. Due to him being single he is escorted by authorities to a hotel where all single people stay to find mates or turned into animals. They are not allowed to masturbate, but the hotel maids routinely give lap dances to check for libido. The first day, Farrell is forced to be one-handed to show how hard life is being single. (His hand is handcuffed behind his back on his belt—which in a dumb scene, shows him struggling to get undressed to sleep when sleeping in his clothes would’ve been infinitely easier. The next day he has his pants back on and I’m still scratching my head how he did that one-handed—but I digress) He meets some people and tries to find a decent woman. You may be wondering how it could be so hard to find love or even a decent relationship in such a dire straits scenario but the fact of the matter is that this film tries (and most likely succeeds) in showing us how awkward and socially inept we are as humans with love in general. Basically, everyone in this film acts like a grade-school kid’s version of relationships. For instance, Ben Whishaw wants to find a mate that has a limp, because he has a limp. His previous wife also had a limp. He thinks that’s a decent defining characteristic enough to share with someone for a lasting, fulfilling relationship. He later fakes getting constant nosebleeds to win the affections of a lady, who, also has a condition for getting nosebleeds. When he nears the end of his 45 days, Farrell fakes being a heartless and cold dickhead because he seeks the affection of a woman who is notorious for being a cold-hearted bitch. No one has any real deep and meaningful conversations about themselves to get to really know someone else and form a bond intellectually or affectionately.
Let me also explain that there is a plot-point of people who desert the hotel to save from being turned into an animal. The loyal hotel guests can extend their 45 day sentence to find a mate if they manage to hunt down the deserters. Every guest is given the mandatory tranquilizer rifle and is routinely bussed out into the wilderness to find deserters. The wilderness also is home to “the loners,” a group of people the complete opposite of society who only want to be single and being in love or having sexual relations is forbidden. Again, the film is playing it very on the nose with the theme of love and relationships and I’m still struggling with if it’s done in a way that deserves all this praise that the film is getting. It won Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival by the way. The Seventh Seal won the Cannes Jury Prize to put that in perspective. So eventually, Farrell flees the hotel and joins up with the loners but ultimately falls in love with Rachel Weisz. This causes the leader of the loners to punish Weisz by making her blind. It’s hard to go further without spoilers but her now being blind gives Farrell a tough choice and leaves the film with, we the audience, to guess what the ending will actually be when the film ends.
Is the film funny? Like I said, the dialogue is so weird and monotone that you can’t help but find some humor in it. But this all depends on your sense of humor or mood. It took me two viewings to appreciate the absurdity of the movie. Is it entertaining? This is where I draw the line. It looks and feels like a terribly made movie. I said earlier that it feels like it was made by an outer space alien and that’s how it feels. People talk like idiots and have the most boring and inane conversations of all time. It’s not easy watching a movie (a two hour one at that) where every single person is socially awkward. So much that nothing of substance is spoken in the whole movie. It takes a lot of mental stamina to be able to sit through the whole thing and liking it to boot. There’s also narration that in some cases, repeats what was just literally shown on screen or repeats what was said by the characters, that you think it was made for the visually-impaired. I’m not joking. There’s also a lot of unnecessary slow-motion and a very grating musical score that again, the more you watch it and if by some miracle, you appreciate the quirkiness of this film, will eventually begin to be funny. But is this entertaining? I’d have to say no. I’m not going to lie, this film makes it tough to be an important and serious film. The film is interesting enough to check out though. I’ll give it that.
Overall: I’m not sure where in film history this film will fall in terms of its cultural or artistic merit. Will it get a Criterion Collection DVD? Perhaps. Will it make the national registry? Who the fuck knows? Will it be analyzed, dissected and discussed countless times in countless film theory classes in countless college campuses? Surely. That’s as best as a positive review I can give such a movie. Remember I had to watch it twice and I’m sure with repeat viewings I will actually appreciate its quirkiness and absurd nature. If you read the quotes on imdb for instance, even out of context, they happen to be hilarious. I’m still not sure if that’s intentional or not. And that’s one of my problems with this movie. On one hand it tries hard to be profound and self-important but on the other hand it has Colin Farrell matter-of-factly say: “I was masturbating behind those trees over there.”
Score: 6 Toasted Fingers Because of Masturbation (out of 10)