Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster was a confusing experience, even know I'm not totally sure what to make of it. All I know is that I wanted to like it more than I actually did. In this post (which contains spoilers pertaining to the events of the film itself) I hope to explain why I feel like I do. 

So, here we go and remember

First of all, I was dazzled by the world that Yorgos Lanthimos and his  longtime collaborator Efthymis Filippou created and was intrigued just as much by what was not said or shown than what actually was. The process of having to go to the hotel for 45 days with the hope of pairing up initially appears mandatory and this is further backed up by the scenes in the city where authoritarian police officers root out singletons. But the parents of Lea Séydoux's Loner Leader seem oblivious to the harshness of their world and there's just too much disparity between the hotel residents to convince that this is some totalitarian regime; why are some much younger than others? Why has Ben Whishaw's Limping Man arrived just five days after his wife had died? Is the truth of the matter more worrying than we initially suspect - is access to the programme actually (in part) voluntary?

What frustrated me is the fact that the film is just too fast and loose with its own rules. Lanthimos and Filippou have created something here that is undeniably intriguing, but their outright refusal to expound further or to follow their ideas to any logical conclusion makes for frustrating viewing. I was amused by the deadpan, stilted, Wes Anderson-like delivery the cast adopted, but ultimately I too longed for something with a bit more warmth and humanity. If this really is a satire on the pressures we in society impose upon ourselves when it comes to forming and maintaining successful relationships, then why couldn't our protagonists be a little more easy to relate to and empathise with? The style of The Lobster inevitably keeps viewers at arm's length which is frustrating as there was the potential here for a much warmer, more quietly life affirming film in which our protagonists find a degree of contentment and happiness in the last days of their following of the absurd rules that will see them compliantly taking steps to their own 'animalized' fate - a film could have existed here which had something overall to say about the human spirit despite the arbitrary and impractical, unforgiving conditions we indeed set ourselves.

After a time, I wondered if the style of delivery was, in fact, the key. Characters struggle with communication, in a way which seems to suggest their isolation may stem from their social impairment and an almost autistic like behaviour. But this theory doesn't hold water because, as we are told, several of these singletons did once have partners. So why do they speak and behave as they do? Could it be that they are so determined, so wrapped up in the facade of presenting themselves favourably to their prospective partner - by highlighting their similarities and concerning themselves solely with what they believe the other wishes to hear - that their real identity, their true self, is absent? Satirically this works just as well I guess as, in pursuit of love, we all to a degree try to present what we believe others wish to see in us rather than what we truly are.

I also want to know why our protagonists set so much store in the notion that they could only be in a relationship with someone they have something in common with. The notion that opposites attract is not entertained at all in the world of The Lobster, as each character searches for, in essence, their mirror image, with a quality that they share. Interestingly, aside from Olivia Colman's hotel manager who shares a fondness for singing with her partner, these qualities always seem to be an impairment; the Limping Man's late wife also had a limp and, when unable to find someone with the same disability at the hotel, he cheats: faking nosebleeds to be with a girl who is a natural sufferer of this complaint, played by Jessica Barden. Likewise  in desperation, Colin Farrell's David - with just a few days left of his stay - elects to fake an unsympathetic character to be with Angeliki Papoulia's heartless woman. These relationships, based on lies, are shown to be unsuitable but highlight once again the arbitrary goals we in fact set ourselves when looking for love. Most intriguingly, this belief continues in the wilderness with Farrell falling for Rachel Weisz's character because they are both short-sighted. Why, when free from the hotel and society's restrictive formula for romance, do these people still conform - is this a statement on pre-conditioning? Ultimately their refusal to see (oh how ironic) any other possibility for romance leads to David considering self mutilation when Weisz has been cruelly blinded by Séydoux in an attempt to scupper their burgeoning romance. She is blind, he is not, therefore in her logic their connection is broken. The film closes ambiguously on this harrowing act in a way which was, to me at least, reminiscent of the hotel manager's dilemma when confronted by the loners; his lack of compunction in firing a (unbeknownst to him) empty pistol at Colman, suggests he was happy to sacrifice her life to ensure he selfishly saved his own skin, even though he was precariously positioning himself as a loner as a result. In essence, their prized couple status was built on nothing more than sand. However, when it comes to the crunch, Farrell's David seems unable to sacrifice his sight to achieve his ultimate goal of coupledom and the acceptance of the world around him.

Many critics have cited how the first half of the movie, with its hotel setting of leisure and luxury which belies the fact that it is actually a prison reminiscent of Patrick McGoohan's iconic '60s TV series The Prisoner, is far superior to the second half, and it's something I completely agree with. I get that the film is trying to tell us that there is virtually no option open to David, as the world he inhabits is completely unforgiving whether you are willing to conform to coupledom or whether you wish to rebel and remain a loner. There is no freedom here, and the loners hiding out in the forest are just as ruthlessly and coldly insistent on their way of life as the hotel management are of theirs. But like the action in Lilliput in the first half of Gulliver's Travels, it is the world you are first introduced to that captures your attention and provides the most fun. No one gives a stuff about Brobdingnag - which reverses the roles to have Gulliver the Lilliputian in this land of giants - really do they? What is even more damning for the film's second half is the fact that so much of the potential afforded to it before this stage is now squandered, notably the whole 'animalization' process which was arguably the film's main concept. Again, it's just too fast and loose with its own rules, discarding concepts when it suits. This would be fine if what they moved on to built on and improved what had previously been, but the film loses its fizz with each abandonment. There's just no escaping the fact that this new raft of characters, though well played, are less interesting and engaging than those who came before them. This flaw is all too apparent in the film's use of narration from Weisz who, again despite the strengths in performance and the key nature of her character for David's story, is arguably the film's least compelling character. Narration in film requires some kind of investment and empathy for the audience and that cannot be secured when you only introduce your narrator half way through the proceedings.

Overall The Lobster may have gained a lot of love and acclaim but personally it was a case of nearly not quite for me. The hunt continues...

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