The Lobster A film by Yorgos Lanthimos. With Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden
The first thing I should mention is that, in the extremely progressive and liberal-minded community in which I watched this movie, Asheville, North Carolina, where people will do anything for entertainment—they’ll stop and watch a guy playing a kazoo on the street—fully half of the audience walked out before it was over. We didn’t have much of a crowd to begin with, maybe twenty people, but half couldn’t take it, the cowardly bastards. They can’t face the truth about romance in the modern world.
My meditation teacher used to say that, of all his students, half were in a relationship and wanted out; the other half were alone and wanted to be in relationship. It is a well-known human truth that the grass looks greener on the other side of the relationship, and it could be the subject of a light whimsical comedy. Yorgos Lanthimos decided instead to make a kind of Kafkaesque horror movie, though the IMDb website refers to it as a comedy. I didn’t hear a lot of laughter, just the relieved howls of people who had left.
A possibly comic scene: a man who was caught masturbating (John C. Reilly) was confronted in the hotel dining room with what he had done and had his hand put it a toaster while the manager turned it on. He sat there screaming. It was after that scene that a cluster of viewers left. Where’s their sense of humor?
Here’s the plot: at some vague moment in the near future, at some faceless apparently European city, people from The City who are not in relationship are taken to a hotel, where they have 45 days to establish a relationship or they will be changed into an animal of their choice. The film’s protagonist, named David (Colin Farrell) has decided to become a lobster, because they live in the ocean, which he likes, and because they live for a hundred years. That assumes they aren’t caught in a trap and served in The Hotel’s Surf ‘n’ Turf (along with some guy who wanted to be a cow). Spoiler alert: Farrell is not actually changed into a lobster. It’s safe to make a reservation at a seafood restaurant after this movie. We don’t see anyone turned into an animal, though David is walking around with a dog that used to be his brother. I’m not kidding. He always thought the guy was a son of a bitch.
The comedic possibilities for this movie are endless, which is why it’s such a shame that it takes itself so seriously and makes itself so grim. In this rather high pressure situation, where—needless to say—masturbation is forbidden (or the morning toast is going to be a little late), where the maid comes in and excites the male clients every morning by making them lie on the bed while she rubs her butt on their genitals (another brilliant comedic moment), nobody seems to be trying terribly hard to strike up a relationship. These people look more awkward then we were at dancing school when I was 12 years old. They mostly just hang around not masturbating, talking listlessly and self-consciously to one another. At one point they do try to dance. They make Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man look like James Brown.
Another weird aspect of the situation is that people seek out people who are like them in some way (does this reflect Personal Ads?). So a man with a limp tries to find a woman with one, one with a stutter listens for a speech impediment. In my experience—also the experience of humankind in general—opposites tend to attract. David apparently decides—why I do not know—that his best chance is with a woman who is utterly heartless (Angeliki Papoulia), so he tries to convince her that he is just like her. I don’t want to be guilty of another spoiler. Let’s just say that a subsequent scene involves David’s dog, who is also his brother, and it ain’t pretty. It lost us another cluster of viewers, and propelled David into the forest around the hotel.
Out there is a community of people rebelling against this fascist situation. I would have guessed they’d be free lovers, hippies, reasonable people, something. But no: this is a similarly fascistic community of loners, where it’s great to be solitary (jerk off all you want!), but if you fall in love you’ll be severely punished. I don’t think they turn you into an animal (though by that time I had stopped listening to the absurd conditions). I think they turn you over to the hotel and let them turn you into an animal. Anyway, it’s no better outside than inside.
David immediately falls in love. Who wouldn’t?
I’m not sure what this movie is making fun of, or commenting on. Is it people’s desperation to be in relationships, using dating sites and phone apps? Is it other people’s neurotic fear of relationships? I wish I were a European intellectual so I could answer these questions, but I don’t have a clue. I sat in the back trying to make light of the situation with my wife (there was no one left for us to disturb), but the movie put us in a dreadful mood. Thank God I had reservations at a vegan restaurant. Sometimes my instincts are brilliant.
The movie is well-directed, has a stellar cast, and was trying—as my wife kept saying, giving it every benefit of the doubt—to be a work of art. But any movie that opens with a woman walking into a field with a handgun and shooting a donkey in the head (another relationship gone sour, apparently) is going to have trouble turning itself around. It would have been funnier if David had been changed into a lobster and served to the heartless woman for dinner.
She would have enjoyed every bite.
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