The Lobster

The Lobster is about a world where single adults are punished for failing to find a mate and imprisoned in The Hotel. While there, they have 45 days to find a mate or they will be transformed into an animal of their choice. David (played by Colin Farrell) decides that, unless he can hook up with someone, he’d be happy to become a lobster.

The one big break I will give The Lobster is that it’s a great conversation piece. Last summer, Rick Chatenever of The Maui News interviewed Colin Farrell, the film’s star, and The Lobstercame up. Chatenever asked him to describe the plot, which made for an amusing anecdote.

Actually watching the film is another thing entirely.

The Lobster is off-putting from the start, with a grating violin score and Rachel Weisz’ course narration. Director Yorgos Lanthimos films each scene in offbeat ways, with off-center framing, boxy composition and dull lighting making for an exceptionally ugly movie.

While the set-up is intriguing, there’s no follow-through on the initial premise, as the story leaves The Hotel and rabbit trails into other random, equally weird but far less compelling subplots. Lanthimos is clearly aiming for the nightmarish brilliance of Luis Bunuel, whose blend of absurdist humor and shocking visuals made him one of cinema’s greatest, most influential masters of surrealism. But The Lobster never works as a comedy or an allegory but only as a self-consciously strange art movie and acting exercise.

It’s suggested that every character in this world lacks emotion. The result is that the actors recite their lines in a detached, zombie-like fashion. Farrell and Lea Sedoux, in particular, sound as if they’re reading their lines for the first time, off cue cards. This leaves the audience with no one to connect to. John C. Reilly plays Farrell’s friend at The Hotel and he goes down with the ship. Reilly can typically add creative spark to any movie but he’s ill-used here and shares his co-star’s inability to engage.

Lanthimos’ breakout film, the divisive Dogtooth, is an acclaimed work, though I’m not a fan. Both his films portray unorthodox and cruel means of human communication. It allows for an intellectual conversation post-screening but the concept is limited. As an allegory, anyone who is/was bitter, single and has a cluster of well-off married friends can relate to the film’s portrayal of elite domesticity. Yet, as a satire, it’s limited. Throwaway jokes about couples raising children and Stand By Me are hardly novel.

A couple walked out of the film early into the screening I attended. I’ve never walked out on a movie in my life but this one sure made me want to follow them. There’s a scene in particular where a character describes brutally murdering a dog. We then see the aftermath: a bloodied, dead canine with a hole in its stomach. What follows is one of the most inept chase scenes ever filmed. The contempt for the audience oozes off the screen.

You can feel the strain to make the closing shot poetic but it doesn’t work. My favorite ongoing bit in the film is how a variety of animals wander into the background of many scenes, suggesting the victims of The Hotel remain at large. I laughed when a camel casually walks through a scene, managing to upstage Seydoux, which isn’t easy.

For the record, if I had to choose, I would want to turn myself into a bat. That way, I could fly, would have a killer wingspan and be blind, preventing me from ever having to endure The Lobster again.

One Star

originally published in Maui Time Weekly