When I first watched the trailer for The Lobster, I thought, “this looks like a Dogtooth-style movie where Colin Farrell tries to look like Paul F. Tompkins.” I was not sure I needed such a movie in my life. But then I found myself curious … does he fail to fall in love with Rachel Weisz and become a lobster? I had to know.
The Lobster, while a surreal movie, does have a fairly straightforward premise, which is imagining a society that punishes people for being single. This gives it a bit more of a “punchline” quality than Murakami-style surrealism or Wes Anderson’s twee non-sequiturs. Here, the madness is organized around one particular type of angst (the fear of being alone … or the fear of being stigmatized for being alone).
I wasn’t crazy for being reminded of Dogtooth, a Greek movie from 2009 about a bunch of teenagers who are aggressively sheltered from the outside world. (Spoiler alert: there’s animal killing, cunnilingus and lots of barking!) Both Dogtooth and The Lobster were directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (probably a name to remember at this point).
The Lobster reminded me of I Heart Huckabees in that I think it’s the type of movie you need to see twice. The first time I saw I Heart Huckabees, I hated it because I thought it was pseudo-deep, scattered and trite. The second time I saw it I realized that I had been so distracted by the assumed “existential weight” of the movie that I didn’t notice how hilarious it was (I was also like 16). With that in mind, I tried to see the humor in The Lobster the first time I watched it.
The Lobster is definitely more of a comedy than Dogtooth. I mean John C. Reilly is in it and this is how the cast list reads:
Take this movie too seriously at your own peril!
The humor in The Lobster is very understated. At one point David (Colin Farrell) uses the excuse that “I left some batteries under a tree down there, and the last thing I’d want is to lose them” to end a conversation. This may not read funny but in the context of this very odd movie, it’s a hilarious moment. A makeout scene in front of parents gently playing string instruments is one of the funniest moments in film this year for sure.
At a couple points, the dialog feels a bit too much like a punchline, like when the owners of the hotel say they give couples who fight a child to take care of because that usually solves everything. It’s a bit too on the nose, and it snaps you out of the odd place you have to get into to enjoy The Lobster. (That did not prevent this joke from eliciting a lot of chuckles from the audience, however.)
I’m sure that the second time I see this movie I’ll notice a lot of funny moments that I missed at the beginning, when I was still trying to figure out what type of surreal universe we were in.
The Lobster isn’t perfect. The voiceover could have been nixed, and there were a couple plot points that could have been cut for time (the heartless woman plot slowed the movie down for me). There’s a lot going on, and it almost felt like two seasons of a show (season 1: the hotel/ season 2: nature) more than one coherent movie. That said, the fact that I could see myself watching a TV show version of this movie is a good thing. It has an infectious weirdness, humor and heart that I’ve missed in movies lately.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that made me really excited about movies (maybe Her in 2013?). The Lobster did that for me, and that’s high praise. Hopefully it’s as good, if not better, the second time I see it.