Will Schube would like to adamantly tell you that the American Buffalo does not exist.
The Lobster is a fine movie. Great, even. It consists of a fully realized vision and one of the most unique and exciting plots this side of, “Holy shit, why are they making another Ben-Hur?” Yorgos Lanthimos (Director/Co-Writer) takes many of his visual cues from mid-century European auteurs. A dash of Antonioni’s bleak existentialism with some of Tarkovsky’s alien landscapes. The pitch black humor is reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s ‘50s film The Seventh Seal in that its central conceit requires a faithful investment in the story from the viewer to extract comedic moments from pathos. But where The Lobster sharply veers from these classics is in a certain lack of subtlety towards its own story.
There’s a certain conceit a director is forced to reckon with when his or her story is as engrossing as The Lobster’s is. There are very few viewers of the work who will see the film without knowing its plot. This is because the plot is distinct and easy to associate with originality, while also being an easy way to market in an increasingly tough film world.
David (Colin Farrell) is dumped by his wife of eleven years and one month, and on the Earth he inhabits, single people are shipped off to an island where they must find a mate within 45 days or else they’re turned into an animal of their choosing (if I’m David I lock myself in the room and count down the minutes until I can become a Bison). There’s a nearly uninhabited area across the island wherein escaped singles roam the forest with a single conceit: romance is strictly forbidden.
People on the 45 day path go across the island and earn additional days to their 45 if they capture these escaped singles. From there, the story turns romantic and heartbreaking and horrific. It’s an absolutely engrossing plot for a film and it’s no wonder why production company A24 would launch onto the back of this narrative to make it an indie darling. The problem with The Lobster isn’t the plot itself, but in the way Lanthimos revels in it.
In 2009, Lanthimos released Dogtooth, a film with the patient camera boasted in The Lobster but with far more narrative restraint than in his latest release. It’s a heartbreaking masterpiece. Disturbing, interesting…Phenomenal. The Lobster is really good, but it just lacks the substance of this earlier work. This is an easy problem to complain about with a good film. There’s nothing else worth fretting about. Like I said, The Lobster is an excellent movie. But the company it attempts to keep (art house classics, even Dogtooth) outshine the film in their ability to make the audience grasp for knowledge and ideas.
Part of this, obviously, is the aforementioned decision by A24 to attach so much of the film’s promotional campaign to the wacky creativity of the plot. It’s hard to watch the film without knowing exactly what’s going to occur. Lanthimos does a wonderful job adding in subplots (including the gruesome conclusion) and a few twists and turns to keep the film from obsessing over its own ingenuity. But where The Lobster ultimately falls short in its willingness to give the audience everything. It’s like looking at a 3D map from above as opposed to a linearly unfolding line.
The whole thing feels constantly available, without any work from the audience. It’s entertainment, which is always a great thing. But The Lobster has been talked about as something more, something greater; a piece of art, a capital-F Film. This is certainly an odd thing to latch onto, sure, but when a term like “dystopian masterpiece” gets thrown around, someone’s got to poke holes in the fun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m counting down the days until I can roam Yellowstone with my Bison buds.
See this movie, enjoy this movie, don’t freak out about this movie.