Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
What do people want when they watch a movie?
Lots of people just want entertainment. They want big explosions. Fast cars. Cool quips. Sexy ladies. Handsome leading men. Something they can watch that lets them turn off their brain. One hand in their bucket of popcorn. Small trace of drool hanging from their lower lip. Vacant look in their eyes.
These people are obviously idiots. But not you right? You’re not like them. You’re sophisticated. You’re cultured. You like movies that are actually about stuff. You like smart movies.
Like The Lobster.
Here we have a modern classic. Something that’s less movie and more cinema. That’s about real human beings. That examines complicated ideas like love and relationships. A film that has meaningful things to say. It’s something with depth you know?
Except. That’s not really true is it?
Because really. When you pick it up and look at it close up – The Lobster doesn’t really have anything that’s all that interesting to say. I mean yeah – it’s a drag when you’re single and you feel like you’re never going to find anyone. And yeah sometimes it seems that everyone else in the world is coupled up. And yeah sometimes people bound over stupid things. And yeah sometimes you change parts of yourself in order to be with someone cool. But as observations about the human condition go – all of this stuff is… pretty trite no?
But at the risk of sounding super cynical – I feel like The Lobster is a movie that’s been designed to display all the characteristics and appearances of a movie that’s deep and wise but with none of the actual wisdom or insight. I mean I’ll admit that the premise is interesting (“Single people are forced to go to a hotel where they have to find a partner otherwises they’re turned into an animal”) but it never really manages to expand upon it in any real meaningful way. Or to put it another way – why are they turned into animals? Why are they not just taken out the back and shot in the head? I mean – that would make the certain conflict a lot more stark right? If your choice is to find someone or die. But that misses the fact that the getting-turned-into-an-animal thing is slightly strange and surreal and seems like it’s gesturing towards something profound. Plus you know – it’s a fun game that people can play after they’ve left the movie! (Cut to: dinner party. Everyone sitting around the table politely eating their meal. “So. Erm. I saw this delightful movie yesterday called The Lobster and it’s all about this idea of people being turned into animals! So I was wondering – what animal would you like to be turned into?” “Oh! What a fantastic question dear!”)
There’s no real deeper point here. It’s just… an affectation. There’s a bit in the second half of the movie where two characters are talking in the woods and in the background a camel walks past and for a second you’re like “wait. Why is there a camel in the woods?” and then you’re like “oh wait. I guess that was what someone was turned into.” And then – well – that’s it.
Of course you could say – well. You’re not supposed to treat a movie like an essay. It’s not making points. It’s an aesthetic experience. And I liked how it made me feel.
But then – here’s the dirty little secret of the vast majority of “vaguely art house” movies = they all feel exactly the same. You have a main character who’s confused and depressed. Awful things happen to them. Everything is kinda boring with no real forward momentum. The audience feels sad and therefore thinks that it’s seen something that’s intellectual (“Sad means it’s smart right?”). They tell their friends that they can’t really explain it but they just have to see this movie.
My big question when watching The Lobster was – “why is this not a book?” I mean yeah ok. Colin Farrell gives a good performance. And everyone else tries their best. And some of the shots are nice and well lit. But there’s nothing really that cinematic about any of the stuff that happens. And if it was a book I don’t think you’d really miss all that much.
I don’t want to sound too much like a disgruntled fanboy – but you don’t even see them turn into animals. “Well yeah – but it’s not really that type of film.” Well yes. I agree. And that’s the problem isn’t it? It’s not the type of movie that really wants to show you anything too strange or interesting. Because it wants to be boring. And there’s an awful lot of people out there that have managed to convince themselves that boring equals smart.
Of course this is what happens when people define themselves in opposition to things. Most of the people I’ve spoken to in my life – when they say they’re into art house / world cinema etc – will always follow it up with a comment that goes something like “It’s not like that Hollywood stuff you know?” But you know if that’s all you got it’s really not nearly enough. And completely forgoing any kind of narrative pleasure whatsoever seems like a meagre existence to me…
(Watching depressing things isn’t that smart either).
But hey – what do you think?
I think it’s tricky to use blanket terms like “art house” in any useful sense. Is Le Haine art house because it’s in black and white? Is Citizen Kane art house cos it is art and it’s in black and white and it’s from an independent studio? Is Alien art house because it’s so damn cool to look at?
I get the point there is a conversation that you can hear outside the Tate Modern about whether a piece of modern art actually stops and makes you think or perhaps even takes your breath away, and whether there are some things there that feel like a grift. Is this lobster phone art or is it someone taking the piss? [thinking face emoji] Also if everyone else says “awe man the lobster phone is great” then it feels like you are missing out on a shared delusion, and frankly I feel like I have been missing out on some shred delusions recently and I want back in. But also maybe it’s just no for me, like K-Pop bands and television news, it’s immaterial whether I like because I am not in the target demographic.
At least two of my siblings have history of art degrees and they have loads of crazy information about the production of art which gives them a whole new perspective on paintings where I would just shrug. I don’t have a degree in film but I’ve seen films that have an indescribable affect on me. Three Colours Red for example is not really about anything, and definitely meets Joel’s criteria for dull but it’s like being transported to a favourite dream. It’s not even a particularly “crazy” arty movie, it just does a thing.
Anyway with that mazy run through the box defending/disputing the idea of art house movies I have to say I am largely in agreement with Joel that the Lobster is a load of old bobbins. It feels like a sort of improv that got out of hand not just in it’s pretty basic stoner-level sexual politics but just in the script.
Like what even are the sexual politics? Is it than pairing off is a dumb Heteronormative herd instinct? Not only is that not particularly interesting in and of itself but the film ends with a dumb heteronormative couple! In one of the only two memorable scenes in the movie Lobster guy loves Rachel Weiss so much he contemplates blinding himself for her. I’m not 100% certain I’d even do that to save my own life.
“Ahh but Jonathan it disputes the idea that you have to have things fundamentally in common with your life partner?” [A wise straw man interjects] Firstly, does it tho? And Secondly I don’t feel couples not having much in common has been some sort of Jane Austen style social stigma forcing couples apart, so much as they probably find it difficult to make conversation in the pub.
Lastly the movie ends with some sort of violent insurrection against the facility but up until this point people have been forcibly turned into animals or hunted like animals so one wonders why, if rebellion was a possibility, it did not happen much earlier in the timeline. The film is supposed to be a dystopia, but I don’t think something can count as a dystopia if all the protagonists can largely agree that whatever they were doing wasn’t very good over a cup of tea and some biscuits. Much like this review it feels like the writers got bored with their own stupid movie.
Perhaps the best way to map the Lobster on the movie landscape is to think of it as a deliberate anti-James Bond movie. While this is to give too much credit by association there are a number of choices made throughout the film which seem to be flicking 2 fingers up at “movies” but unfortunately fails to be an antidote.
Firstly the casting which includes Colin Farrell (who would not have been a bad James Bond and has done many similar roles) and Rachel Weisz who won an Oscar for being in a spy movie, is about to appear in Black Widow, and is married to James Bond! The best and possibly only joke in the Lobster is to have these two movie stars play as the fairly muted and unmotivated characters ambling through the plot with very little agency.
Secondly the setting me and location is deliberately unremarkable, helpful for budget but also avoiding any idea of spectacle.
Lastly James Bond’s themes of sex, action and extreme violence are all laid bare for being a little ridiculous in various scenes. There is a point near the end where we would expect to see Weisz and Farrell running for their lives and instead they are just walking briskly down the road. Earlier in the film Farrell gets a lap dance from a french maid, which is more than we have ever seen Bond get, but (much like Bond sex) it is a joyless ritual. Lastly of course there is plenty of violence with the running and the shooting, Weisz gets blinded, and a dog gets kicked to death but it is again just very bleak. All of these scenes have a deadpan comedy about them but there is nothing to contrast this to unless you had watched Skyfall or Mission Impossible immediately beforehand.
While these scenes all fly in the face of spy movie glamour it is also not particularly entertaining or interesting. Perhaps that’s the point, if you think about action movies and what the reality might be like, and plenty of movies have, it is super dull and horrible. The Lobster duly takes a sexy french maid, someone being horrifically blinded, and rebels being chased by a baying mob, and sucks all the energy out of them. It is quite a trick to burst all those balloons, but what you then needed then was that Hitchcock trick of putting the bomb under the table to make the dull things interesting. Instead of having exciting things low energy and boring things high energy you just have everything being boring.
It is hard to get on board with this sort of nihilist energy which says “cool stuff, nah that’s a bit rubbish isn’t it” “romance, also rubbish” “horror? Nope not showing any of that” “plot resolution? What are you 5 years old?” without some sort of counter offer beyond the bleak void of loneliness and despair that is already in plentiful supply on the high street.
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