In hot water.
There’s a very minor character in Yorgos Lanthimos‘ The Lobster that has a striking resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s likely the similarities are entirely co-incidental and yet Hitchcock has one of the most distinct and recognizable appearances of any filmmaker. It’s unlikely that Lanthimos, a filmmaker himself, didn’t at least notice the resemblance. The character is even introduced by way of silhouette, a visual motif with which Hitchock immortalised his appearance. Is it deliberate? If it was, what does that mean? There’s nothing notably Hitchcockian about The Lobster, and so what’s the significance. Perhaps it means nothing. Perhaps it’s coincidental. It may just part of the world that Lanthimos has conjured, and that’s all there is to it.
There are two central ways in which you might view The Lobster. The first is that Lanthimos’ off-beat film is full of meaning and that the quirkiness is all considered. The second is that nothing means anything and it’s all eccentricity for the sake of it. It doesn’t entirely work as either, because one keeps getting in the way of the other. It’s the sort of film that suggests that there’s a lot going on, like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgandy, which was released earlier this year. It’s constantly implying meaning, so you’re constantly searching for it. But The Lobster doesn’t reward our investment and our analysis the way Strickland’s film did. Rather it rebukes you, with moments of shallow absurdity undermining the potential poignancy.
Like The Duke Of Burgundy, The Lobster unfolds in a world that is superficially not so unlike our own and yet under the surface the disparities are startling. Also like Strickland’s film there’s a lot about the world that remains ambiguous. The rules of Lanthimos’ world are slowly spelled out, but as naturally as they perhaps possibly could be considering just how eccentric it all is. Somewhere in either the near future or in a world that resembles our own, single people are sent to a bleak hotel to face a forty-five day ultimatum – couple up or be turned into an animal of their choice.
There’s a strong case to be made for The Lobster being about loneliness. If it is then Lanthimos’ enthusiasm for detached weirdness cripples anything he’s trying to convey regarding such a human emotion. These aren’t real humans we’re watching, they’re just too odd. Richard Ayoade’s The Double is another film that comes to mind that occupies a world that vaguely resembles our own with characters that only vaguely resemble us. Or perhaps The Lobster is about social anxiety. Some of the socially stunted interactions between potential pairings, even the ones that appear to have a genuine connection, are painful. Out of sheer desperation, not wanting to be transformed into an animal, characters deliberately contradict their nature in attempts to find a partner. It’s easier to show emotion that you don’t have than hide emotion that you do.
It’s difficult to imagine The Lobster being so charming, or so funny, without Colin Farrell. Entirely shed of the self-aware, flawless movie star image he carried as a younger man that never entirely suited him, Farrell has more recently found more creative success in flawed, off-kilter performances. His character, David, never appears entirely at home with the material, as if either he belongs in an different film or perhaps as though Farrell is in on a joke that not even Lanthimos is aware of. There’s nothing self-conscious about Farrell’s performance. A lesser actor might have brought too much of themselves to David.
It’s not entirely an unpleasant thought to consider that Lanthimos made The Lobster simply because he could. There’s the distinct sense that The Lobster is simply the result of an unexpected and outlandish creative impulse and that Lanthimos just happened to have the resources to see it through. It might not mean anything. That’s not so much of a bad thing.