by Miguel E. Rodriguez
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman
My Rating: 4/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 87% Certified Fresh
PLOT: In a dystopian near-future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or be transformed into an animal.
[So, yeah, this is about 1,800 words of how much I disliked the majority of this movie, so this review is FULL OF SPOILERS, because it pissed me off so much…if you have ANY interest in seeing this movie, I’d seriously advise against reading this review. I’d advise you MORE against SEEING the movie, but whatever, dealer’s choice.]
“The course of your relationship will be monitored closely by our staff and by me personally. If you encounter any problems, any tensions, any arguing, that you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps, a lot.” – Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman)
(That’s the best line in the movie, just thought you should get the highlight now.)
I first became interested in The Lobster after discovering The Favourite, one of the very best films of 2018. I thought director Yorgos Lanthimos’s vision and directorial style were stunningly original, and the story was exquisitely well-acted by all three of the female leads. So, by extension, I figured The Lobster would be more of the same. It came highly recommended by other friends, and I remember seeing it in stores with that now-familiar “Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes” sticker.
Well, I just finished watching The Lobster on Netflix. It was, putting it mildly, a major letdown.
It had a promising start. The opening scene features a woman driving wordlessly through some countryside. She stops on the side of the road, and as she exits the car, you can see she’s carrying a revolver. She calmly walks into a field and approaches a nearby donkey and…well, let me just say that my attention was immediately grabbed.
Eventually, the audience is fed enough information to deduce that, for reasons left unexplained, single people from The City (it’s never referred to by its proper name) are being trucked to a resort hotel in the country. Their personal possessions are confiscated, and they are assigned small rooms with single beds. They are calmly informed that, if they manage to pair up with another hotel guest, they will both be relocated to a room with a queen bed, and from there to a yacht. (They are mum about what’s supposed to happen after that.)
If, however, you are unable to pair up with someone after 45 days, you will be literally transformed into an animal. You are permitted to decide which animal. Well, naturally. (David, our “hero” (Colin Farrell), wants to be a lobster if his time comes, although not for any reasons that Phoebe Bouffay might celebrate…)
So…yeah. You’ve basically got Logan’s Run meets Black Mirror.
For the first section of the film, taking place mostly in and around the resort, I was mesmerized. It felt like the best films of Spike Jonze, or even Monty Python. For example, The Hotel strictly prohibits masturbation. When John C. Reilly’s character breaks this rule, his punishment is bizarre but, I would imagine, 100% effective. (And let me just say, it’s probably not what you’re thinking.)
Another bizarre moment: sexual intercourse with any other guest while still single is also strictly prohibited, but as part of the “treatment” for a single person, once a day, a maid comes to your room to replace any tranquilizer darts you may have used the previous night (long story) and then performs, for lack of a better word, a lap dance. This dance, while technically “erotic”, is drained of any sexual chemistry. It defies description. It is one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen on film in recent years.
Now, I LIKE bizarre. This whole opening third of the film is right up my alley. I had literally NO idea where any of this was headed, and that thrills me. But then…disaster strikes, at least from my point of view.
David, Colin Farrell’s character, can take it no longer and engineers an escape from the Hotel. In the surrounding forests, he discovers a band of Loners, single people who survive off the land, as they are unwelcome in The City. They pride themselves on being able to do what they want where they want (as long as it’s not in The City), but they ALSO have strict rules about not pairing up. Masturbation: A-OK. Hooking up: VERBOTEN.
From an allegorical point of view, I believe The Hotel represents the cult of Couplehood, or Marriage, if you like, that tends to assault single folks, in one way or another, their entire single life. (Argue with me all you want, but if you want concrete examples, look no further than television commercials, game, set, match.) On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the cult of Singularity [my own name, not from the film], the folks who love being single so much that, when their friends couple up, the single friend backs off from invitations and begs off of parties and fades away, because who needs that pressure, am I right?
So the rules of the Loners make sense from that perspective. But…from a STORY perspective, the movie comes to a stop once David finds himself in that forest. He meets a beautiful woman (Rachel Weisz, credited only as “Short Sighted Woman”), they flirt surreptitiously, they develop a forbidden relationship, they go undercover into the city with another faux couple (just to prove they can, I guess), and then they are discovered by the leader of the Loners. The Loner leader tricks Short Sighted Woman into seeing an eye doctor on the pretense of getting her vision corrected, but instead, the doctor [SPOILER ALERT] blinds her as punishment for her transgression.
BLINDS her. Don’t you think a severe tongue-lashing and two nights without food or water would have sufficed here? I mean, what the actual f***?
At this point, I was getting tired of this story. I felt bogged down by melodrama after a seriously promising start. (For example, the way in which the forbidden relationship between David and Short Sighted Woman was discovered was absurdly preventable; it felt like something that happened only because the screenplay required it, not because it was something the characters would actually do.)
So, now we’re at the REAL reason I disliked this movie so much. If you’ve stuck with me this long, we’re at the home stretch. MAJOR spoiler follows, so last chance to bail.
David and the newly-blinded S.S.W. engineer a second escape and wind up on foot on a country road, presumably heading into The City. At this point, I made a startling realization. From an allegorical point of view, David and S.S.W., at least to a small degree, represented my relationship with my own girlfriend. They were in a relationship, but not an officially “sanctioned” one (Marriage), so they don’t belong in The City. And they’re a couple, but not truly “single”, so they don’t belong at The Hotel. They’re in relationship limbo, at least as far as cultural designations go.
I was like, “Hey! Finally, a movie that acknowledges a relationship like mine! …although I certainly don’t feel like I’m navigating a no-man’s land, but at least we’re being represented in some small way.”
So. They wind up at a diner, where David makes a decision: he will blind himself with a steak knife.
What. The f**k. What is this plot point supposed to represent in this allegory? The need (requirement?) for one partner in a relationship to make drastic changes to themselves, physically or otherwise, in order to belong with the other person? I understand the need for change and compromise in ANY relationship, but here’s my two cents: if you decide your relationship depends on you BLINDING YOURSELF for your partner, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.
So, picture the scene: David leaves blind S.S.W. at the table and heads to the bathroom. We see him preparing to do the deed. The knife is in his hand. He stuffs paper towels in his mouth to stifle the screams that are sure to come. He holds the steak knife with the point JUST about to penetrate the eyeball. Suddenly, CUT back to S.S.W. at the table. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. A waiter refreshes her water glass. She continues waiting. Through the diner window, construction is in progress across the street. She waits. And waits. And waits.
Suddenly…CUT TO BLACK…ROLL CREDITS.
Reader, I am being 100% truthful when I say, at that point, I literally flipped the double-bird at my TV screen and yelled out, “WHAT THE F**K!!!”
I mean, seriously…what is the POINT of that dangling participle of an ending? There are only three possible outcomes: he blinds himself and returns to S.S.W., OR he chickens out and returns to S.S.W., OR he chickens out and bails on S.S.W. Since we get the Schrodinger’s Cat ending, it is simultaneously ALL of those endings and NONE of those endings, which is extraordinarily FRUSTRATING BEYOND BELIEF. I got NO resolution to the story OR the characters. Do they try to find safe harbor in The City, perhaps on forged documents? Do they travel the country, taking only the back roads and taking shelter in backyard sheds or hastily dug shelters? ARE THEY BOTH BLIND during all this?
Don’t tell me, “Well, it’s up to you what happens. What do YOU think he does?” I don’t know, I DIDN’T WRITE THE SCREENPLAY. Farrell plays the character with an almost childlike simplicity, so it’s impossible to predict what he’ll do. This serves the story extremely well in the first part of the movie, but it does the viewing audience no favors when it comes to this absurd anti-climax.
I felt short-changed and cheated at the end of this movie. And I really liked the characters, and I liked the first third of the story, and I stuck with it hoping it would arrive at a grand conclusion, some epic, symbolic imagery that would bring things full circle or SOMETHING. And I got bupkis. That’s not how you treat a viewer, folks. I felt insulted.
So. Despite my hatred for the ending, I still give it a 4 (rounding up 1/3 of 10) because of how original and oddball the first third of the film was, and how much promise it displayed. If they had stuck with that tone all the way through, I could see this REALLY being a gem. As it is, I would like to quote Admiral Ackbar:
“IT’S A TRAP!”