For all that I’d heard about The Lobster in the weeks immediately following its festival premieres, this movie was--to put it in the absolute lightest way possible--not what I expected. Had I actually clicked on any of the myriad Facebook links with The Lobster in its headline, or, really, done any prior research whatsoever before naively stepping into the theatre with my brother, both of us looking forward to a relaxed late night showing of a nice bleak love story on a Tuesday night, I might have been more prepared; but then again, this is only a maybe. My growing hunch throughout the increasingly upsetting viewing that this movie seemed, stylistically and thematically, awfully similar to the only comparable cinematic experience of Dogtooth (2009) was validated once I had physically and mentally recovered enough to finally do the simple search proving they had been conceived by the same disturbingly creative mind.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos casts his withering outlook on humanity and modern life again in The Lobster, with a singular focus on the current state of romance and relationships manifested much in the same way as Dogtooth tackled (or, rather, utterly and violently dismantled) the subject of families, parenting, and the dangers of homeschooling. As an American, it is difficult to say whether the jaw-dropping effects of Lanthimos’ absurdist aesthetic and narrative techniques are more or less striking in his English language film debut, with supporting actor John C. Reilly joining star Colin Farrell onscreen, along with Rachel Weisz and Lanthimos veterans Ariane Labed and Angeliki Papoulia (along with Léa Seydoux of Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) in a particularly chilling role). Witnessing this beautiful, strange, and terrifying vision of dystopian love in one’s own native language brings the dark satire much, much closer to home in such a visceral way that I can’t help but narcissistically wonder if this is somehow targeted toward American audiences even more so than the English-speaking countries which joined in this international cinematic collaboration.
Tinder is a worldwide phenomenon, though, right? Online dating isn’t just exploding in the US, is it? I’m not so desperate for love and company as to accept the attention of any person who shares even the most minute and irrelevant details of life with me, am I? These are among the many the paranoid questions I left the theatre with in my post-Lobster haze of shock and nausea. Since overcoming the initial impact of the screening (though, admittedly, I waited a week to start writing this), I still can’t decide whether Lanthimos’ exceedingly harsh criticism of modern romance is entirely warranted, but am now certain that whether it is deserved or not is rather beside the point. As audiences similarly discovered with Dogtooth, the coherence of these surreal alternate worlds and the brilliance of these stories may function less as criticisms of an entire culture than as cautionary tales for the individual as they move forward. “I did not enjoy that one iota,” my brother commented as the end credits began, with us frozen in our seats and my hand still covering my mouth. No, I would not say The Lobster is an entirely enjoyable film experience, but absolutely one worth having, if only for the sake of seeing yourself and others a little more sharply from now on.