Sunday, June 19, 2016

'The Lobster' review

It's rare for me to leave a movie totally dumbfounded. Movies don't often have me at a loss for words, searching for something that conveys how I felt about it. The Lobster did just that, and nearly a week later, I still don't know what to make of this thing. My feelings have fluctuated up and down, alternating between intense anger and deep respect. With The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos has made a movie that is disturbing, viciously provocative, and incredibly cold. It defies conventional wisdom, it defies normal critical habits of mine, and ultimately, I think it defies basic human emotion. It's a dystopian love story that is Kubrickian in form, told with the kind of precision and calculation that can only come from directors with incredible skill. And yet, despite its intellectual tendencies and impeccable filmmaking craft, The Lobster is totally empty. It feels nothing. It shows only a pitch-black vision of humanity that audiences will struggle to embrace. It's an unforgettable experience- but it's one that I certainly wanted to forget.

Set in a near-ish future (the time period is never made explicitly clear), The Lobster tells the story of David (Colin Farrell), a man who is recently separated from his wife. In the world of the film, single people have to go from The City to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to fall in love and find a mate or they will be turned into an animal. At The Hotel, David meets a few good friends (Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly) and tries to fall in love with a woman (Angeliki Papoulia), but he is simply not able to fit into this new society. Eventually, David joins the Loner Clan, a group of people who live in the wilderness having chose to never fall in love. But of course, things don't quite go as planned there either. David meets a woman (Rachel Weisz), and the two fall desperately in love. It's only a question of how their love will work in a system that forbids it.

I was definitely mixed on my feelings about The Lobster, but there's no question that this was one of the best and most humorous experiences I've had at a theater in a while, simply because the audience I saw the film with was so thoroughly baffled by it. One woman jumped ship pretty early, leaving before it had even reached the one hour mark. Others were more patient, sticking around to see where the film took them. Around the 90 minute period, another couple got up and left. But this was all just an appetizer for the main course, which was the mass exodus that occurred right at the film's ending. I won't spoil the film's rather stunning conclusion here, but it's obvious that the audience wasn't all too pleased by it. There were widespread groans and a group of people practically ran out of the theater. As I walked out in shock, one woman proclaimed that this was one of the worst films she'd ever seen.

So it's safe to say that The Lobster is a rather polarizing film and will be for the foreseeable future. It's provocative, outrageous, shocking, and almost downright unlikable at times. It discusses graphic sex and horrific violence in a matter-of-fact tone that often comes off as tasteless and disgusting. All of the characters speak like robots, and none of them have a whole lot of personality. The Lobster feels almost alien. There's something so chilling and off-putting about the way that this movie is told and in that way, I believe that Yorgos Lanthimos succeeded. Sure, I didn't necessarily enjoy this aspect of the film- it became very uncomfortable to watch. But film isn't meant to make the audience comfortable. Great films can be divisive and challenging, and Lanthimos nails the tone that he strives for in this dystopian journey.

The Lobster left me angry and slightly horrified. And in the context of this film, that's probably what the filmmakers were going for. Unfortunately, Lanthimos fails in crafting a compelling film beyond the icy cold atmosphere. It starts out very strongly and ends with a bang, but the stuff in the middle is what doesn't really work. Lots of things happen, but over time, the dramatic energy is sucked out of the film. As the action moves to the loner clan, Lanthimos seems to lose the trajectory. Scenes happen, people bounce around, and the focus is almost completely lost. The wild intensity and hilarity of the first half is lost in favor of a dry, pseudo-arthouse emptiness that feels disingenuous. The love story doesn't work because you don't really understand the characters and because of that, The Lobster loses its way.

But even during the more tedious parts of the film, the alien feeling is deeply felt. The acting is stilted and robotic all-around, and while it can be kind of fun to watch a cast of esteemed actors play chilly, emotionless sociopaths, I began to search for something more under the surface that I never found. Although I imagine that these actors were doing pretty much what Lanthimos asked, I still never felt anything for these characters. Colin Farrell's David is the center of the movie and I truly think that was a major mistake. With Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly's characters, there are more opportunities for Lanthimos to explore the themes that run through this film. Instead, we're stuck with David, someone who has nearly no personality whatsoever. He's a black hole of nothing, and when he falls in love with Rachel Weisz's character, it was nearly impossible to understand why.

Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou's script isn't interested in character. Instead, it's interested in human nature, specifically in terms of our relationship with love. This is The Lobster's greatest strength. When Lanthimos uses the chilly environment to convey his "love is bullsh*t" themes, it's incredibly effective. There are some great moments with Ben Whishaw's character that stick out in my mind as particularly strong. Human awkwardness runs throughout every scene in the film, and sometimes, it can be quite humorous to watch. The Lobster is actually a very funny black comedy at times, as funny as dog murder and suggested eye gouging can be. Lanthimos' film is at its best when combining this unique brand of satire with his very precise control of the cinematic elements. At those moments, this film shines.

For those reasons, I have deep respect for what Lanthimos has created with The Lobster. It is truly a film unlike any other I have seen, and there are so many great moments packed into a rare creation. I would say something that Lanthimos could have done better or areas for improvement, but in this case, I don't know if there really are many that apply. I believe that Lanthimos made the film that he set out to make, even if I believe that the film has major flaws. Ultimately, I just didn't care for it that much, despite its filmmaking strength. And that's okay. Even though The Lobster didn't work for me, it announces Lanthimos as a divisive, skillful talent who will be making crazy, controversial films for years to come.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Forbes, Variety, Joblo

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. I think I share some of your same feelings - I didn't love the movie, but I appreciate it. It does have a lot of interesting things going on, but you're right - the midsection definitely drags.

    - Zach (