More noise than signal

The Lobster

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

David (Colin Farrell)’s wife leaves him for another man, which would ordinarily be upheaval enough in your life, but not the the Dystopiaville that The Lobster occurs in. He’s visited by the authorities and carted off to a hotel where, he’s told, he must find a suitable partner in 45 days or be turned into an animal of his choosing. Naturally.

While there he makes a few friends, such as John C. Reilly’s Lisping Man and Ben Whishaw’s Limping Man – this film has a character list that reads like the bottom end of the Avengers’ headhunting list – in the same situation, hoping to find a match which in this world seems to boil down to finding someone that matches one superficial characteristic. Such as limping, or lisping, or getting nosebleeds, or being a complete sociopath.

Sociopathy comes in handy for the evening entertainment at the hotel, where the guests tool up with tranquilliser darts and go off hunting the “loners”, singletons living alone in the woods outside of this weird system. Baggin one of them allows the guest an extra day in the hotel. David eventually winds up escaping to be among them after a disastrous attempt at pairing with aforementioned sociopath, but the loner’s rules are no less strange.

Romance is strictly forbidden, for the same reasons pairing up is so heavily pushed in the rest of this society, which is to say arbitrarily, which David seems okay with until he meets Rachel Weisz’s Short Sighted Woman, whom he falls in love with. Their relationship develops in secret, but eventually Léa Seydoux’s Loner Leader catches on, leading to the events that will have to do as the climax.

As you might have gathered, this is far from a conventional narrative, and it’s handled far from conventionally. It’s treated as an absurdist, Kafka-esque black comedy, with everything very deliberately flat – most obviously the dialogue and reading of it by the performers, but also the way it’s handled behind the camera – the muted colours and flat framing.

All very deliberate, perhaps, but to what aim I’m not sure. If, as a quick swatch at other critics would suggest, this is some sort of satire on the dating culture enabled or encouraged by online dating, then that’s some slender pickings right there.

The end result, for me at least, was something that’s much more funny-peculiar than funny-haha. The incongruity of it all raised a few laughs, and there’s some sharp writing and committed performances from a cast I’m generally rather fond of, but for most of the film I was just left a little confused over what it was aiming for.

Now, any time I’ve looked at this year’s upcoming slate of films, with its unyielding barrage of comic book flicks and unwarranted sequels I’ve felt a real and enduring sense of dread and despair -we’re due Fast and the Furious 8, Saw 8 and the 13th Friday the 13th film this year. I should be championing the The Lobster, as it’s a unique, distinctive and entirely unconventional film the likes of which we really need more of in cinema.

However I’m left with no strong opinions on The Lobster at all, positive or negative. It’s the sort of oddball experience I’d normally enjoy, but all I can really say about it is that it held my attention well for its running time and I took nothing more from it than a way to pass a couple of hours. I would still recommend giving this a chance, based purely on its unconventionality, but I didn’t extract a great deal of joy from it.