When your mother tells you “It was the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” you almost have to go see it at that point, don’t you? My mom goes to the movies rather rarely, maybe five or six times a year, usually with some girls who have been her pals for 45 years. They seldom take my input about what to see, of course, because what would I know? One of the ladies wanted to see Puss in Boots because she likes the old nursery rhyme. And Ted because she likes teddy bears.
So I have no pity for them. I would have told them not to go see this, just from the reviews.
You see, when you read a lot of reviews saying “Well, if you’re willing to work for it…” People don’t go to the movies to work at things. And I think it’s not quite an apt way to put it for The Lobster, but the fact is, you’ll have to get around some potentially very uncomfortable things.
David (Colin Farrell, In Bruges, Saving Mr. Banks) lives in an alternate version of reality where people are not allowed to be single. They’re required to report to an island where they will have 45 days to find a suitable partner. If they fail to find a suitable partner within the allotted time, they are turned into the animal of their choice. Most people, including David’s brother who has already failed at this, will pick a dog or some lovable creature, but David wants to be a lobster.
OK, so, first things first, you have to be willing to accept this sort of oddball Spike Jonez/Michel Gondry type premise. Next, you have to deal with the fact that David isn’t particularly likable. Everyone in this dystopia has a pretty flat affect. They are cold and unsympathetic and completely insane by any real world standard. What’s more, being thrown into this life-or-death situation people don’t even associate particularly with their fellow travellers.
There is a little slipperiness here, narratively speaking: People introduce themselves by pronouncing their most salient identifying feature. And it is on this feature that the two parties must match up. Sorta.
This works better metaphorically than literally but it makes for some amusing behavior. For example, one guy gives himself nosebleeds because he’s interested in a girl whose salient feature is, you guessed it, nosebleeds. But at a later point, when David is trying desperately to hook up with “short-sighted woman” (Rachel Weisz, The Brothers Bloom, Oz: The Great And Powerful, who narrates), he runs through item after item looking for something—anything at all—that they have in common. Since she’s willing and he’s willing, the requirement must either be placed on them either by external force or an internalization of an idea about love. The latter making more metaphorical sense.
And reminding me of dating sites, which use these quizzes to match people up, something I first ran into in the ’80s, but which probably goes back to video dating and earlier. And every one I have ever seen (granting I have never used such a service to procure a date) was a collection of trivialities that made me think, “There’s no way this wouldn’t result in the most fragile of relationships, except by mere luck.”
And here it is, literalized.
One’s time on the island can be extended by hunting down and tranquilizing escapees who decided at the last minute they didn’t want to be animals. And there’s a small resistance of single people out in the forest who turn out to be at least as crazy as everyone else in the world. They’re aggressively single, and to hook up with another person results in the most horrific punishments, even as they try to find ways to fight the system.
It works on so many levels. OK, it only works on one level: the surreal or metaphorical. But it works really well on that level. Initially, David figures he’s going to get out of this mess by hooking up with this complete sociopath—a great analogy to people deciding they’re not going to feel after a breakup, ’cause feeling hurts. Problem is, he’s not a sociopath, and she’s constantly testing him to see if he has any emotions or if he’s just hiding them.
We actually loved it. But there are distasteful things involved: dead animals, completely emotionless sex, mild mutilation, and so on. So I guess that’s “work”. And in any case, we would really only very cautiously recommend it to others.