THE LOBSTER: Smart, A Bit Long

Colin Farrel, Rachel Weisz, Leah Seydoux

The Lobster’s a strange little movie about a dystopian society where single people are given 45 days to find a partner or they are turned into an animal of their choice. It stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and Lea Seydoux.

Colin Farrell plays David, a newly-single man who arrives at a hotel where people are expected to mingle and find a partner before their time is up. The hotel is populated by sad, confused, sometimes angry people. And everyone knows the cloud hanging over all of their head’s. Spoilers will follow.

Firstly, it’s weird. People talk weird. The dialogue is choppy and literal. People say what they are thinking to each other, and include every detail. Part of it’s stylistic, contributing to a thick layer of unease. But it also serves the story in certain ways. The residents are motivated to find a partner and are thus more willing to speak frankly about their feelings and if their defining characteristics are quote “a match.”

In one scene another guest invites David to have sex with her very matter-of-factly, but includes a detailed (if ill-conceived) plan to jump out a window and kill herself if he doesn’t. She eventually jumps, and doesn’t die, the camera pans out on her lying in a pool of blood and crying hysterically, severely injured.

It’s one of the few scenes that jarred me out of the otherwise creepy dream-like feeling of the rest of the film. It’s meant to, of course. The Lobster makes a point of breaking through with moments of terror hinting at the closeted darkness of the world these people live in. David’s friend The Lisping Man, played by John C. Reilly, is at one point forced to put his hand in a toaster for masturbating, which is forbidden for the guests. Throughout their stay, guests are not-unsubtly reminded of the serious dangers of living or doing anything alone. Immediately upon arriving, David’s right arm is chained behind his back to remind him that not having a partner is inconvenient. Staff perform skits warning of choking at the dinner table with no-one to give you the Heimlich, or that the only way to ward off potential attackers on the street is to have a companion.

And these instances offered really interesting glimpses at the rules of this world. It’s a dystopian place, but all of that is in the background. The Lobster eschews the usual dystopian trappings like blighted cityscapes, armed guards, a cult of personality figure at the center of its drama, and puts the focus on a very specific part of life. That is, that you’ll be turned into a dog or whatever if you’re not married. It made me really start to think about David’s world. And it was a very mature kind of world-building because it percolated almost entirely off-screen. In fact in was so subtle, you might even make the argument that the reason for David’s impending fate is NOT the result of some autocratic regime but instead a just social norm, the twisted consequence of society’s preference for people to be married.

And surely that’s the point, if there is one. The filmmakers are highlighting the strong real-life social pressure to be in a relationship. Our opinion of someone is of course tightly linked with their marital status or their ability to attract a mate. People who either remain or become single later in life are definitely seen as unusual, or at worst lacking in some perceived social faculty.

And that was where the film really shone. The rules of the hotel were rigid and the film seemed to delight in obscuring the reasons why. You’re going to be turned into an animal, that’s going to happen unless you partner up with someone. But are these laws? Is the hotel a government entity? It forbids masturbation and the staff are required to perform sexually for guests right up to the point of cumming to encourage thoughts of partnership. But are they on David’s side? Are the rules there to encourage partnership in good faith? Or was the whole thing a bizarre form of punishment for people society regards as pariahs? Those were questions that the film danced around really well and used to address its thesis.

But where the film kinda lost me was when David escapes the hotel. And it’s a big thing; it’s literally the second half of the movie.

As part of their stay, guests are required to participate in hunts, where they go out into the woods with rifles and tranquilizer darts and collect the single people who live in ragtag groups out there. And it was when David eventually joins these people that the plot screeched to a halt and really started meandering. I thought the film was heading for the end-point it established early on: every morning David is woken up by an alarm clock telling him how many days he has left as a human. It was a clever, built-in countdown. But the film left-turns when David escapes, ignoring its principle conflict and just shedding the narrative framework it really deftly built up until that point.

That it didn’t end where it lead you to believe it was going to is fine; this is a movie that establishes a society of illogic. But the ending was so far removed from the original premise that I felt like it didn’t even make sense as a subversion of my expectations. It went on way too long to end with any sort of narrative punch. Not knowing where something’s gonna end gets me bored really quick. And while scenes in the second half were not without their point; many served to really color the strange world these people lived in and comment on the idea of relationships. For example, when David and the others go into the city to get supplies, they travel in pairs so as not to raise suspicions with the police and put on a show for relatives unaware of their rebellious, single lifestyle.

For me, a high-concept film like this works best when it ends in a way that fits in with the logic established throughout the plot, (or if it’s a film that has a high likelihood of subverting that logical ending, like this one, does so in a way that still sorta makes sense.) It’s hard to explain but like: a car movie ends in a chase. A martial arts movie ends in a fight, etc.

Drive is cool example because on the surface the ending seemed to come out of nowhere but in reality fits right in with the rest of the film. In it, Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who gets involved with people themselves involved in criminal activity. It ends in two ways. One, he drives a bad guy off a cliff with his car wearing a stunt mask. Cars, stunts: Check. But the real ending the second one, when the Driver stabs the boss bad guy outside a Chinese food restaurant.

That he uses a knife at first seems like a deux ex machina; his weapon of choice earlier on being a hammer. But when you think about it, the ending subverts your expectation in a way that still fits logically because you remember that he’s a loner with a wild imagination. He’s a guy who’s seen too many movies and has no concept of crime outside of them. When he himself gets caught up in a Hollywood-style caper of course he’s going to conclude that they all end in a double-cross and pack accordingly. I wished The Lobster ended like this, twisted but more evenly-matched with its setup. Instead the second half ultimately took liberties with my patience, and concluded in way that I felt didn’t answer its own question.

That being said though, it is a film of great detail. The setting, the scrub-grass foggy seaside of Ireland was wonderful to look at. The hotel itself was this sort of three-and-a-half-star affair that just oozed this cheap, concocted façade of hospitality. Colin Farrell sported a wonderful gut, the sign of a previously soft and complacent life. And then the incongruous animals that wandered into frame from time to time. An enormous pig, a llama. It was only after that I realized they were people. What’s a pink flamingo doing on the fogy coastline of Ireland? It’s because it was someone’s favorite animal and they became it.

And that’s disappointing because up until it started losing me, I was totally into it. It’s a great dark comedy vision, a film that succeeds at being very selective about what it tells you. Colin Farrell was perfectly cast and I was reminded that John C. Reilly’s a good dramatic talent as well.

Colin Farrell’s David only really starts taking shape once he leaves the hotel. But he’s hard to pin down. Though, to be fair, that’s more a compliment to his complexity as he was written. Like, I’m pretty sure he was somebody who never needed or wanted to be with another person to begin with. On the one hand, he makes moves that seem to show an eagerness to play ball and find a partner, asking a girl to dance and then actually partnering up with someone. But I suspect that was all a ploy to escape. Of course then that introduces the problem of foreshadowing, and if there were any clues to his plan I didn’t see any.

He’s a character of contradictions, and one I’m still trying to wrap my head around. On the one hand, he makes friends with a couple of guys and spends most of his time with them instead of finding a mate. And I assumed that this was the film commenting on the nature of companionship, that it doesn’t always have to be romantic. But then it’s revealed that David wasn’t even really friends with The Lisping Man, John C. Reilly’s character. Which I guess shows that David is in fact conniving and self-serving, though I didn’t pick up on that at all. And Rachel Weisz’ character is a whole other ballgame. Does he actually love her? I guess so, he seems to have found something he wants, something that excites him. But then once she becomes blind he’s no longer interested.

That’s confusing. Characters throughout the film view partnership as merely matching character traits or their “thing.” David’s friend only partners up with a girl because he lies about having a chronic bloody nose, like her, obviously the film making the point that love is more than just people with a collection of shared interests, the modern online-dating version prevalent today.

But then the movie shows David actually falling in love, or at the very least feeling something more for someone outside of that superficial construct, the intangibles of love. If he’s supposed to have a better understanding of companionship, why does he kick her to the when she’s an inconvenience? Once the Short-Sighted Woman becomes damaged goods he reverts to matching traits to convince her that they wouldn’t have worked out in the long run, pushing her away. He even asks her if she speaks German and then shames her for not knowing. What? David’s a shitbag. He’s not sympathetic. He doesn’t have a better idea of what love is. He’s just like everybody else, only manipulative enough to do something about it.

And her name. The Short-Sighted Woman. Obviously, take it literally, because that’s how it’s supposed to be taken. She doesn’t see that David is self-serving and that maybe while he might feel something for her, he only really likes the danger and the fantasy of something forbidden. But then, how does that make her any better than the people in the hotel? Those people follow the silly rule that you must partner up with someone at all costs. But she’s just as stupid. Convinced of the opposite dogma of the forest people where relationships are forbidden.

I dunno. It’s dense. There seems to be a mess of ideas and they all contradict each other. And an absurdist film, yeah…that’s probably the point. But, mostly very good. And clearly thought-provoking.

The Lobster: Smart, a bit long. And the ending was empty. Still, recommended.

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