Fail to fall in love with The Lobster within the first 45 minutes & you’ll be transformed into the miffed geezer complaining that he had just seen “the stupidest movie of [his] life” while standing next to me at the world’s most telling critical forum: the post-screening urinal. Personally, I enjoyed the film, but it took a lot of willingness to give into its off-putting deadpan style to get there. Here’s a list of things you have to be okay with seeing depicted to enjoy The Lobster: high-concept absurdism, twee preciousness, animal cruelty, romanceless intercourse, abrupt & ambiguous conclusions, heartless violence, purposefully awkward & stilted acting, a muddled mix of sci-fi & fantasy, the world’s strangest rape joke, and Colin Farrell. You still with me? A lot of the elderly folk I shared a theater with last Saturday morning weren’t, making this one of the most disharmonious screening I’ve been to since listening to the genre-minded horror hungry grumble at The Witch. Just like the film’s central premise promises/threatens, there’s a lot of pressure to fall in love with The Lobster against the near-insurmountable odds or else your personal experience could turn quite ugly, even beastly.
As is true with a lot of high-concept sci-fi & fantasy, I mostly enjoyed The Lobster as an exercise in world-building. In the film’s dystopian reality, being romantically unattached is punishable by law. Only couples are allowed to live in The City. Single people are forcibly enrolled in a program at a resort hotel that attempts to pair them off in life-long romantic bonds. Failure to fall in love within 45 days results in being turned into an animal of their choice through surgical procedure. More time can be added to their stay at the resort by hunting down defecting loners who chose to live in isolation in the wilderness. Seemingly, no one is truly happy. There’s a fierce, biting allegory to this premise that combines the most effective aspects of sci-fi short stories & absurdist stage play black humor to skewer the surreal, predatory nature of the modern romance landscape. It takes a certain sensibility to give into The Lobster‘s many outlandish conceits, but it’s easy to see how the film could top many best of the year lists for those able to lock onto its very peculiar, particular mode of operation, despite the sour word of mouth at the post-screening urinal. It’s basically 2016’s Anomalisa, with all the positives & negatives that comparison implies.
Just like Anomalisa, The Lobster is difficult to connect with on a personal, emotive level due to the distancing nature of its befuddled protagonist & its high-concept conceit. (Both films also boast the two of the awkwardest sex scenes I’ve endured in years, but that’s another matter.) I would say that the central problem with high-concept allegory is that it cuts into the audience’s ability to empathize with a film’s romance & humanity, but that’s not always true. Just look to Spike Jonze’s Her for a work that has its cake & eats it too in that regard. The Lobster is purposefully distancing & impersonal. It intentionally takes the audience out of the story at every given opportunity to gawk & scoff at the absurdity of modern romance. I know that I personally would’ve been more enthusiastic about the film’s rewards if it injected a little more heart into its satirical black comedy reflections on the predatory nature of romantic coupling, which didn’t even match the somber not of Anomalisa in terms of genuine emotion. Not everyone will feel that way, though, and a great deal of folks will perfectly enjoy The Lobster on an intellectual level without needing to engage with it on an emotional one.
Sci-fi romance horror has become a pet favorite subgenre of mine lately, best reflected in titles like Possession, Spring, and The One I Love. The Lobster does the genre one better & injects an unhealthy dose of black humor into the formula. A lot of my favorite moments in the film are when it pushes the surreality of its central premise into the familiar territory of a solid comedic gag: masturbation punished with a bread toaster, a Zero Theorem-esque headphones dance party in the woods, the idea that certain species are endangered because most people choose to become dogs, an over-the-top fairy tale narration that pokes fun at the absurdity of needless voice-over, etc. I also respect the film greatly for not shying away from the consequences of its cold, bloody violence, despite what you might expect from its tightly controlled Wes Anderson/Michel Gondry-type meticulousness & whimsy. The Lobster sets the tone early with an opening gun shot, a vindictive act of violence that chills the room before its absurdist humor has a chance to warm it up.
Still, I can see what the wheezing geezer at the urinal was getting at when he complained that the film, particularly the ending, was a letdown. The Lobster is not a romance for the ages titled The Lobsters or a yuck-em-up comedy titled My Brother the Dog, though it could’ve easily gone in either direction. It’s an uncompromising, absurd trudge through ennui & romantic dread, one that makes very little effort to bring the audience along for the deeply somber ride. It takes a leap of faith to enjoy the film. I enjoyed it a great deal myself, but I’ll admit that I was also a little miffed at the way it wore the “Not for Everyone” tag like a badge of honor every chance it got. I get where you’re coming from, angry urinal critic. I understand.