The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos beats us to death with his laboured philosophy again. (Film review)
Note: I first wrote this review in October 25, 2015.
If you’re at all familiar with Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous works, then disappointingly, you don’t have to see The Lobster. He needs a new set of friends, or a new set of books or something, because the tiresomely dull philosophy at the core of The Lobster is the same as in his previous films, and it’s an overworked premise that can’t last a ten minute conversation, let alone a series of long films. His idea that cultural constructs are an oppressive modality that interfere with our “natural instincts” is a yawn fest usually grasped by under twenty-five man-children desperate for some sort of reason to hang on to their ego-justification-dominance theories. The central problem with all these “determinist” ideas, is that humans are mindless automatons complying with a dominant social order that has dramatically separated them from their natural drives – which are always exemplified by their desires of course. At least, all humans are robotically following these paths, except the genius who can see beyond it; usually exponent of these theories. That humans exist as best they can within systems that both rescue and oppress them, and that they perform small acts of rebellion and develop powerful creative responses to the life they’re forced to lead is unexamined by these theories for whom oversimplification is a religion.
What is particularly frustrating about Lanthimos’ constant preaching, is his refusal to include the two central tenets of social control, the law and economics. Both are missing from Dogtooth, Alps and The Lobster, or are partially referred to as if they are not key proponents in the social constructs Lanthimos picks and chooses to “reveal” as contrived. But this is always existent in these kinds of arguments, which prefer to take unspecific constructs such as “religion” or “monogamy” and make these the enemy. Enormous weight is given to the action of transforming oneself to fit in with a loved one (ie – denying who you “really” or “naturally” are) without ever examining the social order that sparks the ideas that lead to these self impositions. The problem with this, is that Lanthimos, like far too many proponents of these paper-thin arguments, thinks he’s so much smarter than the rest of us, and we just haven’t noticed it – like the mindless automatons we are. Surely the far more interesting question is why do we comply? Or even more interesting, how are we already rebelling?
However, if Lanthimos is a boring, thinly educated writer who uses the page to masturbate over (and he is) then he is a thrilling, vibrant film maker with one of the best cinematic eye’s to arrive in years. His observance of absurd detail far exceeds his ability as a philosopher, and it will be a thrilling day if he gets over his infatuation with his silly ideas and intellectually matches meat with the substance of his creative ability. I can’t help loving his films, even as a roll my eyes at his sledge-hammer meanings and his incessant preachiness. They’re thrillingly intelligent observations of the world around us, often beautiful, but always with challenging and exciting aspects. Scenes in The Lobster where David (Colin Farrell) and his unamed lover – of COURSE she’s unnamed! Everyone except HIM is unnamed (yawn) – (Rachael Weisz) walk through long grass in business suits is too wonderful to be couched in his oppressive and insubstantial message. The sheer joy of peacocks roaming forests at night with Shetland Pony’s and two-humped long-haired camels are more befuddled seen through his eyes, particularly because the animals are so very lovely.
A word on that subject. The Lobster is a film about people who have for some reason fallen out of relationships being locked in a resort to find a mate within forty-five days or they are to be turned into an animal, usually of their choosing. This means the animals are human (even as the humans are animals – get it?) and therefore, it should be noted there is a great deal of violence inflicted on animals in this film. The human component is emphasised, but the violence is graphic, drawn out and shown, so be aware that this film will force you to witness that. As an animal lover with a very close relationship with my pets, I found the animal violence inexcusable and unnecessary.
The Lobster sees Lanthimos partnered again with cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis who made Dogtooth with him but wasn’t working on Alps, and his presence helps realise the creative side of Lanthimos’ vision far better than Lanthimos can achieve without him. The Lobster has the same distorted view of Dogtooth, the clean lines and interesting work with light. However, as strong as the cinematography is, nothing can make up for the poorly constructed idealism of Lanthimos beating us over the head at every turn. Because of his ideology, fascinating aspects, such as Lea Seydoux’s character are tragically underwritten and potential for some exciting cinematography are left ignored or unrealised.
If someone gets Lanthimos to read Kafka, or Camus or even Freud we would have a fascinating director who might have something fresh and contemporary to say. Until then, we all have to just cross our fingers and hope he gets over himself enough to let someone else write for him.