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Consider ‘The Lobster’

A still from the film "The Lobster," starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. [Photo provided by A24 Films]

A still from the film "The Lobster," starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. [Photo provided by A24 Films]

"The Lobster" hits select theaters Friday, and the A24-produced film was so interesting that The Oklahoman's film enthusiasts Nathan Poppe and Matt Carney decided to have a discussion rather than tackle a traditional review. Here are their thoughts.

Nathan Poppe: Once every few years, a film comes around that shakes the foundation of why I enjoy going to the theater. Some movies are so unique that I wonder who they were made for, or if they were made specifically to blow my mind. From my initial trailer viewing of “The Lobster,” I knew I was in for a treat. It quickly sets up an almost science-fiction/fantasy premise that involves a hotel that hosts guests who are turned into animals if they can’t fall in love within a 45-day time limit. What I saw in theaters was so much more than that.

Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” is an absurd, tensely wound film that operates by its own rules. It builds a dystopian future that eerily mirrors today but masks itself with a great poker face. It’s as bizarre as it is hilarious. Satirical as it is deadly serious about its unconventional guidelines. I left energized about the thoughtful film and wanted to jump on a mountain to scream about its impact on me.

Matt Carney: Likewise, “The Lobster” left me in awe, a rare, happy reminder why I look to the movie theater for storytelling’s reach to the sublime. I think a good place to start may be in trying to classify it, which is no small task.

Much like some of the other great films I’ve seen this year — Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room,” Jeff Nichols’ “Midnight Special,” and the Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” — “The Lobster” appropriates many genres’ conventions into its own, unique service. People turn into animals here, not because a witch casts a spell upon them, or a corrupt government experiments on its citizens, but simply because that is the logic of this odd, parallel universe. (Which Lanthimos reminds us of with the occasional, out-of-place forest camel wandering across the frame.) As the hotel manager matter-of-factly tells Colin Farrell’s gently mustachioed David upon check-in, there’s nothing to fear in becoming an animal because “you’ll have a second chance to find a companion.”

Like you observed earlier, dystopian science-fiction and fantasy are baked into the film’s premise, but there are also strong cases to be made for “The Lobster” as romantic comedy, tragicomedy, farce and art house. If we hope to dig deepest into this thing, then I submit that we consider it simply as an allegory, that Lanthimos is trying to show us something he believes true. I have my own idea about what that allegorical truth may be, but I’m curious if we arrived at similar conclusions. What do you think that “The Lobster” is about, at its core? And how does Lanthimos get us there?

Poppe: To explain “The Lobster” at length or dissect it further for someone who hasn’t seen it, you would have to make sure they understand its premise. As you pointed out, the film works best as an allegory. “The Lobster” makes its highly relatable points by creating a rigid premise, where everyone’s actions would be absurd in 2016 Oklahoma City but are perceived as totally normal by its characters.

Besides the aforementioned hotel that either matches couples or turns unlucky singles into animals, there exists a forest setting filled with “Loners” and a city that’s intensely policed and will arrest you if you’re single. Again, this all seems absurd, but as I’ve read via The Verge, the film “draws out an illogical world to its most logical ends.” I like that description.

We follow David (Colin Farrell, at his acting best here) as he meanders between all three settings. The extremely severe characters he meets along the way are riddled with character flaws and what Tinder users would call “shortcomings.” What’s never discussed is how any of this makes anyone feel. Instead, characters focus on the lengths they’ll travel to find a suitable mate, no matter how dire the consequences. Even when David finds love in the woods, it can’t survive the squalorous landscape and rigid rules set by its leadership. If you can’t tell, this film paints a pretty bleak portrait of love.

Carney: “The Lobster” did get under my skin. In the days since I’ve seen it, I’ve taken stock of many of my own relationships with friends and significant others, past and present; I’ve wondered, as David does at one point, if true companionship can ever take root if two parties refuse to be anything short of completely honest with one another. The film really is a modern take on love and loneliness on par with the work of Franz Kafka and (one of my favorites) Charlie Kaufman.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this fictive, dark-logic world is its view on singleness, that it leads directly to loneliness and danger. The anti-single propaganda joylessly performed for the hotel guests is so amateurish and stiff, like a children’s pageant. I wonder if perhaps that’s how Lanthimos sees contemporary attitudes toward dating: as beliefs performed by actors who don’t understand them.

And it’s funny that you’d bring up Tinder, since it’s pretty much the polar opposite of how dating works in this high-stakes dystopia. An app connecting you to other single people vs. in-person meetings with others who don’t fit into society as-is. The only person at the hotel who isn’t obviously desperate to connect is The Huntress, who extends her stay well past the 45-day limit by tranquilizing (and even brutalizing) Loners on their bizarre hunting excursions. The symbolism’s thick with sex.

And, like you, I loved Farrell’s performance as meek and timid David here. (“True Detective” season two, this ain’t.) He’s matched expertly by Rachel Weisz, both of them telegraphing their character’s underlying desires for companionship and physical touch in a society that has strict rules for the expression of those sorts of things. To subvert it, the two develop their own private language, telling each other how they feel, when they feel it. Is that what love is?

Let’s return to my plying for allegorical truth. I think Lanthimos is saying something about self-inflicted wounds and how we often succumb to them under pressure from our respective tribes, societies, cultures and even partners. Ben Whishaw’s character, the limping man, for instance, smashes his own face to match with a woman whose distinctive feature is that she often gets bloody noses. “You tell me what’s worse,” he says to David, followed by something to the effect of “Getting the occasional bloody nose or turning into an animal?” The warped society in “The Lobster” incentivizes and rewards trickery, though it causes literal pain.

Poppe: The funny thing I noticed about the allegories you’re pointing out is how little they work to hide their meaning. Scenes almost beg you to pick them apart. Almost anyone who has had a serious relationship or been in rut can find something here they’ve seen before. “The Lobster” is thick with meaning and you almost need a shovel to dig through it all. Personally, I relate with this film more than almost anything I’ve ever seen before. You mentioned Kaufman earlier, who paints his world with a stark level of realism. Lanthimos does that too but his is less dreary, more fantastical. It’s lures you in with its weirdness and then slaps you with a dose of reality.

When Farrell sits on a couch talking about how much he loves Rachel Weisz, his dry delivery turns heartfelt sentiments about marriage into a dry allegory for how it's impossible to retain the passion of a relationship years down the road. Lanthimos might as well be firing flaming arrows at the things we tell ourselves and others in regards to our relationships. The director bravely tells us what we don’t want to hear; that our relationships are ridiculous and built on shaky foundations. I think this makes the film so immediate and such a breath of fresh air in the face of tepid, conventional romantic comedies.

Any closing thoughts on the film? Do you think it’ll be a contender come Oscar season?

Carney: While I’d be disappointed to see “The Lobster” go un-nominated, I think it may be too strange for the Academy’s tastes. Olivia Colman’s won praise from English critics for her role as the humorless hotel manager (part-soulless human resources supervisor, part-disciplinarian schoolmarm), but it’s a small one and she’s not nearly as well known this side of the pond. The film’s dialogue is often childishly simple and while I got chuckles out of Lanthimos’ lens lingering on Colin Farrell's sad, chubby everyman frame, his character’s meant to be unremarkable, forgotten in detail but recalled only for his role in the allegory. Maybe the more famous Lea Seydoux gets recognized with a best supporting role nom? But no, I don’t really see it jockeying for any of the bigger awards. The fun of “The Lobster” is in how you read it, not how it reads. The Academy, I think, tends to favor films made with the latter goal in mind.

So if you’ll permit me, I’ll put a bow on this thing with the following thought: If you’re running a mythical hotel with an unlocked, on-site Transformation Room, do keep a guard stationed there at all times, to keep the number of unauthorized animal transfigurations to a minimum.



R    1:59    4 stars

Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux and Ben Whishaw. (Sexual content including dialogue, and some violence)

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Nathan Poppe

Entertainment Writer and LOOKatOKC Editor Nathan Poppe is a documenter of all things entertaining. The Middle of Nowhere is his blog and a depository of everything that makes the Midwest unique. The coasts have a massive amount of influence on... Read more ›

Matt Carney

Matt Carney is the night editor of and a 2011 graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was born in Tulsa, lives in Oklahoma City and misses QuikTrip every day. Read more ›