Occasionally you stumble across a movie that is nearly impossible to describe. In many of these cases it’s tough enough wrapping your own mind around what your seeing much less putting it into words. That is certainly the case with “The Lobster”, the latest film from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.
Much like his Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth” before it, “The Lobster” is a wacky surrealist concoction originating in the idiosyncratic mind of Lanthimos. I guess you could call the film a romantic dystopian sci-fi black comedy, but even that doesn’t cover all the bases. “The Lobster” once again finds Lanthimos toying with cultural standards and wickedly satirizing society’s view on love and relationships. For my money it’s funnier, stealthily more romantic, and a bit more digestible than “Dogtooth”. Yet it still requires a willingness to embrace the bizarre nature of its story.
That last sentence is a biggie. “The Lobster” demands that we just go with it. It’s imperative. Spend too much time thinking on the absurdity and you’ve already gotten off on the wrong foot. Lanthimos starts off by setting the rules. In this ‘not too distant future’ being single is against the law. Those not married are taken to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a new mate. If they do they are given the opportunity to earn their release back into the city. If they don’t they are transformed into the animal of their choosing and released into the wild.
See what I mean, bizarre beyond description yet within the boundaries set by the filmmaker it works. The main character is David (Colin Farrell). After his wife leaves him for another man, David is taken to the hotel where he begins his 45 days. Once registered David is placed within the hotel’s strict program featuring all sorts of weird companionship training and preparation. He makes friends with fellow residents John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw, but finding a future wife before his time runs out proves to be a challenge.
It’s best to be vague and let you sort through the nuttiness on your own, but I will say “The Lobster” has a sense of humor all its own. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud hysterical (although it can be). Instead the bulk of the humor is found in a variety of unexpected places. It’s all conveyed through an incessant deadpan style from straight-faced characters who live in a constant state of melancholy. There is also a smattering of brief bursts of violence to make things feel even more off-kilter.
There is a fairly dramatic shift at the midway mark and the second half sets off in a much different direction. The tone remains the same and the humor is still wacky and offbeat. But Lanthimos pulls back the reins and changes his focus as Rachel Weisz and Léa Seydoux are introduced into the story. Both actresses are really good, especially Weisz who gives us a reminder of why she’s an Oscar-winner. But the slower pace of the second half becomes an issue and it starts to wander as it makes its way to the finish line.
And that brings me to the ending (without getting into spoilers). So many critics love ambiguous endings and “The Lobster” feeds those hearty affections. I too enjoy them as long as they leave me with something to chew on. This film’s abrupt, open-ended finish is more of an eye-roller than a thought-provoker. It doesn’t offer near enough in its ambiguity to contemplate other than the base narrative questions.
Despite its slow third act and frustrating end, “The Lobster” is uncompromising, provocative, and highly original at every turn. You literally never know where it’s going next. In this his first English-language film, Yorgos Lanthimos showcases his darkly funny form of absurdism through his own moody, muted lens. With “The Lobster” he works with a sharp satirical edge destroying our notions of companionship while also declaring our genuine need for it. The movie may lose some steam near the end, but it consistently engages us with this compelling idea.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS
Great review. I’ve watched this 3 times not w and it is one of my favourite films from the last 5 years. This and ‘Men and Chicken’ are two of the most offbeat and funny films world cinema has presented in a long time.
It is such a wacky movie and vision (and I mean that in a good way). I particularly love the first half.
You’re totally right: I loved the absurdity that filled the first half of this film, but was let down by the lackluster second half. It was still an interesting watch, though, to say the least!
If you watch the film again the 2nd half actually becomes more powerful as Farrell’s character jumps out of the frying pan into an altogether more darker fire. The outside rebels felt almost 1984esque in their attempts to control the characters by forbidding love. I think the ending is Farrell blinding himself for love. Very powerful.
I did get some of that in my second viewing but I still didn’t quite get over it’s slower pacing. Again, far from terrible, but not quite up with the first half for me.
I know what you mean. Essentially the director/writer slowly removed all the jokes; after the death of his brother/dog. Thus making it a more challenging satire.
Very interesting. The second half seemed to hit a lull that I never once noticed in the first half. But one thing is for sure, it’s insanely original!
The Lobster is just so out there in left field. You won’t see anything like this. I found myself enjoying the whole thing, smugly content with the way it makes society’s incessant haranguing of single folks to “Partner Up Before You Die Alone!” look totally and utterly stupid. Lanthimos is unique, I can’t wait to see what he does next
It’s highly unique. I liked this much better than Dogtooth. I struggled with it in many regards. This was looney enough to keep me completely onboard.
This movie sounds very unusual and that appeals to me. Will give it a viewing as soon as I can.
VERY unusual! I’ll guarantee it is unlike anything else you’ve seen.
You have me super intrigued now.
This sounds like one of those movies that is best seen in home viewing so I can see what I missed. I’ve read other reviews and this certainly sounds like one needing multiple views to crack.
I think you’re spot on. I absolutely pulled more from it the second time around. It’s insanely silly and downright weird at times. But there is some surprising smarts behind it all.
Agreed. Fun movie but the ending kind of blows.
It’s crazy, right? Especially that first half.
Agreed about the first half. Was enthralled. 2nd half, lost a ton of interest. Colin Farrell does well with these quirky roles and movies though, more of this please.
Loved the classical music, added a lot in my opinion.
Farrell was a hoot. He fell right into this role and committed fully. Everyone went with it which made a big difference. But yes, that second half…
It’s been a while since I last saw it, but I really liked the strange world it created.
Strange indeed. Such a wild and vivid imagination behind this.
Nice review Keith. While I liked this a bit more than you, I had many of the same issues. While the first half is a perfect mix of dark comedy and tragedy, the second hour kind of falls apart. I also was perplexed by the ending; while often times I prefer ambiguity to closure, I wasn’t quite sure exactly what the conclusion was trying to do.
I agree with everything you said. I’ve sloshed that ending around in my head but still don’t have a fully satisfying opinion. But still, there is so much to appreciate here.
This movie was definitely inventive, but I was just bored to tears with how pretentious it came off! I still believe that it should have won best original screenplay at the Oscars though…it was definitely robbed of that!
Ya know, I can see where you’re coming from. I think for me it was just goofy enough to make me overlook its pretentious side.
Love this review, I appreciate the way you described it… take a look at my review on inglorious bastards it’s one of them movies that is hard to explain without ruining!
Thanks so much. Really appreciate you taking time to read.
I was out after the dog scene because..no….but the script was fairly intriguing until then. Not my kind of movie at all but from what I’ve seen the acting was excellent.
I can completely understand that. It is extremely weird and I can see it not working for everyone.
You definitely can’t help but go with it, while watching The Lobster. Loved the absurdity of it all.
Absolutely absurd but in a really good way. I especially loved the first half. Continually caught me off guard.
So few films do that for me these days. Refreshing when it does happen.
It was nice to see another side of Colin Farrell with this flick, besides just the super fast action movies full of things blowing up. The movie was a bit of a mind twist, but a rather enjoyable one.
It really was a nice surprise. You’re right, it’s nice to see this side of Farrell. I like it more than the bulk of his performances.