Thoughts On: The Lobster (2015)
Undoubtedly the best film of 2015. This is Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurd(ish) sci-fi(ish) look in on a society where you have to be in a relationship, otherwise be turned into an animal.
This is the kind of film you almost despise for being so great. The concept is so brilliant, simple, but infinitely genius. To me this is on the level of flying elephants, cooking rats and talking toys. Yes, Disney and Pixar are geniuses. I don’t care if the make ‘kids’ films’. This is what great story telling is to me: unthinkable poignant concepts executed with perfection. People love to throw around ideas of ‘high concept’: a found footage superhero film. I, in no way, talk down on Chronicle or other high concept pictures here, but what they are is clever. They bring in an audience, they generate interest, but what Lanthimos creates, along with the likes of Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, Lynch and so on, are astounding ideas that are unfathomably poetic and philosophical. I’ll save Lanthimos’ other films for a later date though. High concepts give you the picture of a film, you give the logline and people snap their fingers, they see the film without knowing the plot and they love it. Lanthimos’ concepts are beyond ‘high’ and I don’t want to bastardise them with some snappy quip or term. When you hear flying elephants, cooking rats, talking toys, society where you have to be in a relationship or turned into an animal, you should stop, jaw dropped in awe and be lost in the film’s apparent ideas. If you have to label Lanthimos’ films with a recycled term you could say he creates ‘idea films’. The focus isn’t directly on character, plot, spectacle, but concept.
Concept or idea films are the most poignant and artistically genius because art ultimately boils down to its core – the idea that sparked it all. Some say movies are supposed to entertain, most hate it when you try to talk concept, that The Dark night is about chaos, Poltergeist is about T.V vs. children vs. parents. I accept that cinema isn’t supposed to be anything, that it’s best approached without prejudice, but concept films bridge the gap between artist and audience so well. They aim to engage in conversation, to comment and be commented upon, to be interpreted. Any mature audience should yearn for this–it’s strange we only get it so often from kids’ films. I do love meaningless action though, The Raid is absolutely phenomenal in my opinion and indicates new paths cinema may tread in the future–but I’ll save that for another time. People love to bash the idea of action, ‘dumb’ audiences and senselessness. I mean… sigh… dogmatism should always be ignored is all I can say. All I mean to say here though is, cinema can and should be whatever it can be, we need Star Wars as much as Paranormal Activity, The Notebook, Frozen, Anchorman, Die Hard, Godfather, E.T, The Lobster. However, what’s obvious is people love to talk, be talked at and converse. that’s why I love The Lobster and concept films so much. Anyone making a film, writing a book, painting a picture, choreographing a dance, must start with 1 idea, 1 goal. Some people only intend to make money – people generally hate this kind of content as it’s empty. When time and care, when thought-through intentions, preface a piece of art it can only be benefit. Why do you think sequels are never better than the original? Concept films are defined by intention, and when concept is good… well, we get The Lobster…
This film is about the societal perception of relationships. What is so earnest and poignant about it is the juxtaposition between animals and people. If you can’t find someone to mate with, you’re reduced to an animal. If you can’t conform to the most animalistic parts of you, you’re reduced to, yep, an animal. This film exposes a huge contradiction so many people make in everyday life. As George Carlin said, we’re barely out of the jungle. Yes, humans have the biggest brains (relative to body size) of all animals, yes we love, talk, make movies, construct cities, invent iPods, cook McNuggets (at least some of us can). But, what does this validate? Intelligence is merely not dying. Of course medicine, irrigation, electricity keeps people alive and thriving, but love, religion, complex communication? If there’s one thing this film does so brilliantly is show the cult or group mentalities of people. We herd together like cattle and then define each other with humanity and ‘intelligence’. We conjure up rules like the red kiss, or even worse, the red intercourse, just like having to toast your fingers for masturbating or being turned into an animal for not falling in ‘love’. The direct line such ideas have to the ways we dictate societal norm reflects how pointlessly idiotic we can be. Religion, law, rights are for the most part stupid, but entirely pointless, Controversial, I know. By my saying the law is pointless doesn’t mean I’m an anarchist. I look at the idea from a perspective external to humanity. Ask a crocodile about murder and he’ll laugh and then eat you. Ask a gorilla about rape and yeah, you just might walk away broken and impregnated. Stupid hypothetical, I know, but humans’ bond and reliance on ideas is rather strange. Law, rights and rules are imperative to my life–pointless, but imperative. The film presents this alien every day with perfection.
The absurd aspects of The Lobster with its black comedy, dead pan dialogue and estranged world are what give it a skin of what some might call artsy pretension. I think anyone who calls anything they don’t get pretentious is merely being pretentious themself. They’re saying ‘I didn’t get it, that makes it stupid’. This links back to people hating art films–though the title ‘art film’ doesn’t automatically make a film of any worth, this film is a perfect demonstration of an art film done well. It’s ideas are deep and complex, but so simply projected. If you don’t get this film you simply aren’t paying attention. I like to think this is why Yorgos (yeah we’re friends–not really) adopts these elements of absurdism in his films. It allows him to translate ideas with pin-point precision and to face anyone how doesn’t get it with plain indifference. Furthermore, this mirrors how mechanised people are and links back dogmatism. ‘It just is’. The answer to so much of life’s ambiguities. As a kid I could be reduced to near tears of anger every time I’d be told to clean my room. Of course, a perfectly valid question to such an absurd concept is, ‘why?’. What does mum say? ‘Because I say so’. It’s the whole idea of I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m big you’re small and there’s nothing you can do about it–I love Matilda (a cringy kind of love). That’s not to say that there’s no truth in such an idea. The biggest person wins in the end in almost everything because we live in a world of physics and the biggest guy hits hardest, sticks and stones break bones and yeah, words ain’t gonna hurt anyone. Off point. Anyhow, Matilda does throw back to the fact that some of the best concept films are ‘kids’ films’: Cinderella, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc., My Neighbour Totoro, Howls Moving Castle, I could go on. But the point is–yes Disney Pixar (and others)! Someone who takes people (children) seriously. Why do we bullshit ourselves? How can so many people believe in magic men in the sky? Why do we accept so much as just given? Well, the film’s answer seems to be dependence…
Despite social norm you’re always going to have extremists, weirdos, people with scat fetishes. Scat fetishes!? I don’t get you people, I accept you, do what makes you happy, but… yeah… Whereas some crappy (groan) films love to take the side of the dissenters just for the sake of it, (In Time) The Lobster follows the world’s weirdos to express an interesting side to human nature, not to be quirky YA and ugh. What the film essentially asks is why does dogmatism exist and why do some people indulge in scat fetishes (you can thank me for keeping it simple and not using ‘colourful’ language there). The over arching question beyond that though is: can the blind lead the blind? Hence, the final image. Heart stopping, molar busting and utterly perfect if I may add. Also there’s a link with the ending to some of Lanthimos’ other films with the construction site–tell me if you get what I mean in the comments–if not I’ll come to it another time. Whilst the film ends on ‘can the blind lead the blind?’ it’s already kind of answered that they currently are. That’s what the whole film is about: the contradictory concept of appealing to base animalistic tenancies or being turned into an animal. Dogmatism exists because it’s a way of painting a black canvas bright, no lights shone in darkness, just a Wile E. Coyote trap doomed to failure. Scat fetishes exist because blind people can only wander. People don’t know what they’re doing in life, a simple, God’s honest, truth (no pun intended–well, maybe). Society constructs laws out of the obvious (don’t kill) because we are reaffirming the accepted norm. And what this cycles back to is dependence. We need each other, we need pointless rules, because a blind man holding the hand of a blind woman is most probably better off that a blind individual. Control, we can’t have it because it doesn’t exist. Create your own world, your own Matrix, and shit! Dodge bullets all you want. You’re a God! In short, control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. Now, I’m going to risk being incredibly smug here, but that’s quote worthy, no?
Anyway, the film ultimately makes blind monkeys of us all, but pats us on the back and tells us that that’s just fine. Before I end this I’d like to say that I’ve talked in and around the film. What makes it brilliant is more than its concept. I recommend you watch it and tell me if you agree with me that The Lobster is the best film of last year. Not that I care if you disagree, it obviously is… yes, a joke, well, not entirely.
Hook – What Is Grown Up?
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