Direct from Sundance: The Lobster - Review

Andrew reviews the aggressively weird The Lobster

Just three plain white dudes doing plain
white things. 
Supremely surreal yet sterile minimalist Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos may have actually concocted a black comedy even stranger than Dogtooth with his fifth feature and first English language work, The Lobster.  An international production financed between Ireland (where it's largely shot), England, Greece, France and the Netherlands, the film is a truly bizarre exercise in social satire through the prism of thick dream logic.  Starring Colin Farrell as you've never seen him, The Lobster concerns a hotel housed deep within the Irish countryside where tenants are given 45 days to find a respective companion, preferably heterosexual in orientation.  If you miss the deadline, you are promptly transformed into an animal of your choosing.  It sounds absurd and seems to be treated as such from the outset, or is it?  Unlike Dogtooth which seemed to exist in a tangible reality outside of the imprisoning sheltered lifestyle of it's helpless children, The Lobster doesn't give viewers much leeway to decipher what's real or imagined, sometimes both and neither.  What is here is arguably among the oddest romantic comedies, if you can call it such, since Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love.  That's not to say it all knits into a bow in the end but for as perplexing as the proceedings in Lanthimos' aggressively weird fairy tale get, the motivations of it's characters are startlingly more relatable than you'd expect.

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As with Dogtooth, everyone in The Lobster speaks with the same detached aphasia as though cybernetics make up their internal organs.  Think Peter Weller doing William S. Burrough's in Cronenberg's Naked Lunch where his reaction is the same disengaged and deadpan detachment to every situation however absurd or perverse.  The setup is obviously a send up of our courtship driven society and parodies our dependence on random selection programs like Tinder or OkCupid but it's addressed in a satirical and unconventional manner.  By visual design through extended static wide shots of people, we're witnessing our own contemporary way of life in microcosm but filtered through a distorted prism that has the power of a dream but the tangibility of reality.  Often hilarious with a dark underpinning of unexpected violence peppered throughout, The Lobster is by no means weird for weird's sake and for as absurd as the proceedings get, this is a bizarro God's-Eye view of the ups and downs of romance, true love versus arranged courtship and a continuation of it's Greek provocateur's Bunuelian worldview.  You could argue to a certain degree Lanthimos has picked up where Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie left off.  Among it's most naturalistic moments of surrealism involve characters residing deep within the woods as animals casually pass by within the frame, their animal or human origins left open to interpretation.  Equally offsetting is the use of preexisting avant garde and classical pieces by Igor Stravinsky, echoing the atonal notes of Jonny Greenwood. 

Hopefully this doesn't end like Se7en. 
Unconventional to a fault for some and arguably less focused than the sustained buildup to shock that was Dogtooth, The Lobster is (as it should be) a difficult pill to swallow.  It has no linear narrative structure to speak of, no real conflict beyond a desire to connect and maintains a careful distance from it's audience.  Visually it's an ultra modern chunk of sterility which would make the dulled white rooms of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange look colorful by comparison.  That not one human sounding passage of dialogue is to be found anywhere in the picture only makes the displacement that much more jarring.  Neither safe nor easy, The Lobster doesn't intend to answer all the questions it poses but rather invites viewers to take a step back for a short time and regard the world we live in with a different pair of eyes for two hours.  This isn't for everyone and at times one is hard pressed to call it "good" as it seems determined to upset conventions in cinema we often take for granted.  It would be easy to label this Lynchian but Lanthimos' take on surrealism is less easy to spot as it looks, feels, sounds and tastes so much like our own life.  As Roger Ebert noted on his review of Dogtooth, The Lobster resembles a family album with something implacably off about it.  The average moviegoer can and likely will be annoyed by this but for the far more daring and open minded cinephiles out there, The Lobster is not to be missed!


- Andrew Kotwicki