Movie Review: The Lobster (2016)
With apologies to my nephew Jordan.
Imagine a dystopian sci-fi flick told by Wes Anderson, with a soundtrack out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and you have “The Lobster” from writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”).
If that sounds intriguing, hang on.
Junior high mixer
As the movie opens, the recently cuckolded David (a paunchy, moustached Colin Farrell) is checking into The Hotel, an elegant-but-starched residence on the coast, where he has 45 days to find a mate before being turned into the animal of his choice. In an early interview, he opts for lobster. He likes the sea, he says.
He’s so dispirited I assumed he wanted such a fate, even as the others around him desperately search for a partner. But their problem is twofold:
- They need to find someone with a similar “distinguishing characteristic,” such as nearsightedness, nosebleeds or emotionlessness
- They’re all inept at socializing. They’re adults but sound like kids at a junior high mixer.
The people in charge are equally inept. The Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman of “Broadchurch”) puts on deadpan playlets that show the benefits of coupling (preventing choking, rape), while, to encourage mingling, maids, or one maid anyway (Ariane Labed, Lanthimos’ wife), goes room-to-room and grinds her buttocks perfunctorily into the laps of heterosexual men. She leaves before they finish and self-finishing isn’t allowed. One guest, Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), is found guilty of this infraction and has his hand burned in a toaster as a result. What encourages the female guests to mingle, and how, and by whom, the movie doesn’t bother to answer.
Other rules: Your stay at the Hotel is extended for every “loner”—single people who live in the woods—you bag during “loner hunts.” A heartless woman, known only as The Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), is so good at this she’s got 150+ days before transformation. But for the rest, including David, the days wind down.
The bureaucracy is inept, too. The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) pretends to get nosebleeds to win over the Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), and somehow gets away with it. Eventually, David follows his example: he pretends to be as heartless as The Heartless Woman. It works, for a time, until she kills his dog, Bob (his brother transformed), and he cries. But with the help of the Maid, he escapes, and runs off to join the Loners.
Unfortunately, their rules are just as absurd and draconian. No coupling. No flirting even. Punishment for kissing is Ellen Jamesian. Of course it’s here, where coupling is discouraged, that a real romance blossoms between David and Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), who is also our narrator.
Long story short, the Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) blinds Short Sighted Woman, making her an inappropriate mate for David. The movie ends at a diner in the City, where Short Sighted (now Blind) Woman sits waiting for David, who is attempting to blind himself in the bathroom. Does he? Will he? The camera holds on her, waiting, waiting, waiting, then blinks out.
Love is blind
“The Lobster” is beloved by critics. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and won its Jury Prize. It’s got a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critic Guy Lodge calls is “a brilliant allegory for the increasingly superficial systems of contemporary courtship, including the like-for-like algorithms of online dating sites and the hot-or-not snap judgments of Tinder.”
Me, I barely got through it.
It could be that I haven’t been on the dating scene for 16 years. It could be that I’m in my 50s and want energy rather than enervation from my art. It could be more.
It’s absurdist but I didn’t laugh. I also didn’t find much meaning in it. If you extend Lodge’s allegory, what is the point of the animal transformation? What is the point of the title? I do like this aspect of the ending: Our lovers are now outside the realm of society, but continue to play by its rules. Rather than just pretending to be blind (as he pretended to be cold-hearted), David physically tries to blind himself. We’re always trying to fit in.
It’s a unique movie, certainly. But overall my reaction mirrored the expression of most of the movie’s characters: deadpan.