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Review: The Lobster (2016)

The Lobster (2016)

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Premise: Set in a dystopian future, single people are sent to a hotel where they are obligated to find a romantic partner within forty-five days. If they fail to find a mate, the hotel residents are transformed into an animal.

What Works: The Lobster is as odd as its premise suggests. The conceit of the movie sounds like something out of a dream and the movie operates under that kind of logic. In that respect, one of the most impressive aspects of The Lobster is the way everything in it is aligned. The production design, the cinematography and sound, the arc of the story, and especially the performances by the actors are all complimentary; everyone involved in The Lobster was making the same movie, which speaks well of the skill of co-writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos. The coherency of all aspects of the movie makes The Lobster convincing in much the same way that a bizarre dream feels real to the dreamer. For those who get the film’s off-beat sense of humor, The Lobster is very funny, especially in its first half. The picture recalls movies like Brazil and Eraserhead in its dark sense of the absurd. But the movie isn’t just an act of whimsy or odd-for-oddity’s sake. The Lobster recalls some of the early work of filmmaker David Cronenberg such as Shivers and Videodrome in that it uses a fantastic premise to comment upon social issues and human experiences. The Lobster is about the way in which society pressures people to fit into prefabricated molds, specifically monogamous relationships and the nuclear family. But the film is more complex than that; one of the recurring motifs in The Lobster is that each of the single residents of the hotel attempts to find someone that matches their previous partner or who shares a trait that is unique to them. This leads to the singles going to absurd lengths to accommodate other people with sometimes disastrous results. As the film progresses, it’s revealed that there are those who live outside of the rules of society but the counter culture is as problematic as the dominant culture. The film suggests that the human desire for connection, acceptance, and love and society’s attempts to channel people into social roles inevitably leads to corruption and conflict. The lead performance by Colin Farrell is especially notable; Farrell is quite vulnerable and plays the part straight in a way that makes him empathetic and lends a lot of credibility to the unusual conceit of the story.

What Doesn’t: The term “art film” is sometimes used as a pejorative by mainstream audiences and by some critics to describe movies that are pretentious and impenetrable. There certainly are films like that but “art film” really describes movies that experiment with the cinematic form and defy mainstream conventions and are therefore less commercially appealing. The Lobster is an art film in the true sense of the word, as it is far departed from the style and conventions of Hollywood movies. That means that The Lobster’s appeal is inherently limited; this isn’t a film for the Friday night megaplex crowd looking for brainless thrills and laughs. However, being an art film does not free a movie from the requirements of storytelling and The Lobster struggles in its second half. The opening portion of the movie is great as the filmmakers explore the bizarre world that they’ve created and the residents of the hotel try to operate under the rules of this society. But the tension and momentum of The Lobster dissipates in its second half. It becomes a different kind of picture and it isn’t as funny. The shift in tone is well handled but the second half of The Lobster isn’t as engaging as the first half. The pacing gets sluggish and there are some violent moments that cancel out the absurd sense of fun in the first half of the movie.

Bottom Line: The Lobster is a strange film but it is also a well-made piece of work. The narrative doesn’t adhere to the usual pleasures we get out of a story but the uniqueness of The Lobster’s premise and the thoughtfulness of its ideas make this a provocative and unsettling motion picture.

Episode: #598 (June 12, 2016)