Judging a movie by it’s opening sequence:
An intense-looking woman drives along a country road, raindrops rolling down the passenger-side window. She parks her car, steps outside, walks into a field and shoots a donkey three times in the head.
What do you think? Your cup of tea or “No, thank you”? (And you can forget Googling donkeyflix.com. How do you think they are going to react?)
It’s my own fault. I knew that was going to happen – the premeditated “donkey-cide” was alluded to in a review – and I went anyway. (With movie buff son-in-law Tim.)
Why did I see The Lobster? Because I was interested in the film’s premise. So few movies are about anything other than excoriating capitalism – for box office profit – or extracting money out of teen-age boys’ pockets that a “cultural mores” movie was exactly what I was looking for.
Placing me in seat J-10 at the Landmark Theater, ready for the The Lobster. (Made by longtime collaborators – I hope I spell this right; I will get no assistance from “Autocorrect” – Yorgos Lanthimos and Elthymis Fillipou. Possibly.
Here’s the premise:
A society that abhors “singlehood” requires unattached individuals to visit a hotel where they have 45 days to find a mate or they get transformed into an animal. (The lead character, Colin Farrell, chooses a lobster; hence the title of the movie. By the way, their choice of which animal they get turned into is the only time the film’s characters get to choose anything. Everything else is societally mandated.)
Compressing the storyline – which takes more than two hours to unfold (if this were a proper review I would say the movie is too long but it isn’t so I will say it in brackets – living in a nearby forest is a band of “loners”, escapee single people resisting the cultural requirement of “couplehood”. Although they have a “Code of Behavior” of their own:
You see what they did there? “Rules everywhere”… is the message of the movie. Wherever what group you belong to, there is no escaping the structural pressure to conform.
Ring a bell?
Hey. How many comedies are there whose stated intention is to attack societal tyranny?
Count. Me. In.
But here’s the problem. And I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a long time.
When you go to a movie, you effectively surrender your emotions to the director. You are in the dark. The screen is big. The sound – in tone and in intensity – is pervasive. The director has got you. And they can do anything they want.
Somebody leaps out of a closet. A knife (or bullet) comes out of nowhere, penetrating a character you have come to identify with. There is an earsplitting effect. Not a generic example; I am remembering something specific.
To this day, I recall a moment from the film Clean and Sober (1988) where the lead character (played by Michael Keaton), driving along after finally turning his life around is startlingly blind-sided by another vehicle. I am sure they spent a long time in post-production generating that life-ending “collision sound”, and they did a spectacular job.
Only I hated it. And I resented being submitted to it… without preparation and without my assent.
That’s the director’s power. They can scare pants off you. Whether you want them to or not.
In The Lobster, which is ostensibly a comedy albeit a dark one, moments are set up, visiting torturous tension upon the moviegoer. Being a comedy – and a movie of surprises – some of these moments are “fake outs” and nothing happens. But in a movie that opens with a woman murdering a donkey – and later with a man slamming his nose violently onto a tabletop – I shall not easily forget that sound – allowing him to “connect” with a woman suffering chronic nosebleeds thus avoiding remaining single and being turned into an animal – “fake out” or no “fake out”, you are trapped in a hell of stomach-churning anxiety.
Unbidden stomach-churning anxiety. During one of these anxiety-inducing interludes I literally turned to my companion and complained,
“And we pay money for this.”
(Only partially accurate since Tim (generously) bought both of our tickets.)
You cannot upset me like that. Not without serious consequences. The consequences in this case being that I will blab about it on my blog and forty-seven people (or on a good day more) will immediately know about it.
The Lobster has its pluses. But it is inordinately creepy.
No wonder I’m not a movie critic.
Nobody pays for a ten-word review.
(The 730 words before that? “Extraneous build-up”.)