I think I find myself enjoying Yorgos Lanthimos more in theory rather than in storytelling. The first time I saw Dogtooth I remember having been so shaken by its satire to the point that I ended up feeling guilty about myself for having found it so darkly funny and I found Alps to be one that echoes that same sort of dryness although not with the same impact. Something about The Lobster just hits me in that manner but I can’t put my finger on it, because I just find myself at odds with how I end up feeling about the final effect it leaves behind. At times brilliant and other times maybe a tad too weird for its own sake, it’s easy to see why one would be put off. On first watch I remember having found myself extremely impressed but on a second watch, said effect seems to have faded.
The premise of The Lobster is a fascinating one: we watch people inside of a hotel, somewhere unknown, as people inhabiting have forty-five days in order to find a partner otherwise they will be turned into an animal that they say. Our focus is on David, a man who has come by after his wife has left him for another man. His brother has already turned into a dog, and during his time at the hotel he meets other singles who have no distinct personalities whatsoever. There’s an outlook on life that Lanthimos intends to satirize from how the whole background it takes place within is so dry and devoid of joy for either side, anyone who has a partner or anyone living by themselves. But the fact that The Lobster is so blunt about the idea is where the most fascinating aspects arise.
Like Dogtooth, the film’s humour is extremely dark and never feels afraid of going all the way down to a much more morbid degree as it keeps going. In a similar manner, we also never receive the names of any of the characters rather than David, because David himself is a man that could have been anyone around us on the street. The very setup that they have right here is brilliant all around. The idea that it wishes to get across is clear, because everyone is so devoid of joy from lacking something in their lives after a certain ruling is set around and the most absurd of punishments can come around. One scene especially, with John C. Reilly’s character accused of masturbating in public, might be the most hilarious thing that the film offered because at this point it knows already there’s a specific sort of person who would be driven away from seeing this.
The Lobster just finds itself losing its edge, however, when it comes to where it wants to go with its satire. While at times it goes incredibly morbid, it aspires to create such an awkward effect highlighting a distance between human relationships but sometimes they aren’t particularly funny moments, rather instead repulsive ones. Yorgos Lanthimos seems so open with this pessimistic attitude towards people desperate to find relationships against their own will but the idea it presents about what happens if they are rushed so quickly is where the metaphor finds itself feeling icky. The film’s intention certainly is to make oneself feel awkward especially when it comes down to how it explores the differences in lifestyles but under such a dry outlook, it’s so hard to tell what exactly it is that Lanthimos even means from time to time.
Colin Farrell is great as David, for this sort of archetypal everyday man plays out in a delightfully twisted mannerism that suits the film’s metaphor perfectly, but I feel as if everyone else should be remembered to similar degrees because all that they carry are just caricatures whereas David seems to feel actual growth coming to himself. Everyone goes nameless, although Rachel Weisz and Léa Seydoux stand out but for differing reasons. Weisz especially feels like the exact opposite of David but also comes out as a challenge for his character especially towards the ending of the film, but for how much I love Léa Seydoux, even her role feels like a dead one from her introduction. Rather instead, she carries just one caricature that embodies every last problem I had with all these other nameless figures, they just do so little even with the extreme that they are shown to be under.
Fleeting moments of brilliance save The Lobster from being a total disaster but quite frankly it never carries enough of an edge to become what it intends to be. You can watch Dogtooth to go ahead and see how Yorgos Lanthimos effectively mixed moments of humour with images that normally would seem repulsive to you, but in this sort of setting it seems far too comfortable living in a world seeing everyone as nothing more than a caricature. At certain times the awkwardness it creates is funny, others it is sad because of what it represents, but I’m not even sure what to make of Lanthimos’s intentions then and there. There are moments to which it certainly carries a sort of visual beauty but this atmosphere’s awkwardness at times rings off as dull and meandering like Alps was, but with the narration mixed in, even annoying.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Film4.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay by Efthimis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Produced by Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday
Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw
Release Year: 2015
Running Time: 118 minutes