Thursday, June 2, 2016

Riske Business: Why The Lobster Really Bothers Me

by Adam Riske
It’s basically if Her was made by someone who hates life.

Note: This column will have light spoilers.

The critical majority and a few great people from the F This Movie! community really dig the new movie The Lobster from writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (who directed the buzzed about Dogtooth from a few years ago, a movie I have not yet seen) and yet I find myself really rejecting it. I have my reasons, which will be the crux of this article (you’re still in the Gripehouse), but I want to point out what I find effective about the film first. It’s well-made on its surface. It’s confident and professionally put together. I also think it’s the work of an auteur and a provocative filmmaker. Lanthimos has a singular voice and point of view and for that he should be commended. And that’s about all I’ll say positive about this movie.
I found it to be one of the most depressing experiences I’ve had in a movie theater in a long time. Let’s start there. This movie is bleak. It’s dystopia and admittedly this is a sub-genre of sci-fi (outside of Blade Runner, which I see as a hopeful movie at its end) that I normally do not like. I think it’s easier for filmmakers to despair over the future than to posit that it actually could be something worthwhile. The ground is well-tread already. Does that The Lobster have some interesting ideas about courtship, relationships, being a loner and societal paradigms and expectations? Of course it does. But it’s also a movie that revels in its despair (especially in its second half) and I think provokes audience in a smug way since the movie is rarely played straight and is instead rooted in absurdism and irony. The Lobster thinks it’s very clever and will gladly go out of its way to remind you of that. This would be fine if it had any interest in saying anything but “the world is shit.” Watching The Lobster, for me, was like being on a date with someone I couldn’t wait to get away from. It’s a movie that I think confuses it’s bleakness for profundity.

The Lobster is also pretty sexist in my humble opinion. Every woman in this movie is conniving, evil or bad in some way. Even the ones that aren’t supposed to be this way are inadvertently shitty, such as Rachel Weisz’s character who allows/condones Colin Farrell’s character to do something at the movie’s ending that no one with a heart would allow the other to do. The movie also takes the position that in order for a couple to be together they have to share a common interest which is fine except they show that men are willing to fake that interest in order to be coupled up with particular women. It’s all about the put-upon male, which is a trope I’m fucking sick of in movies, especially relationship ones. It’s like they’re saying “these women are crazy and can you believe all the lengths men have to go through to keep them happy?” I might be a party of one in this complaint, but I sure hope I’m not. It really aggravates me.
I really didn’t want to write this column but felt compelled to because these feelings have been germinating for the past couple of days. I needed an outlet and luckily I have one available to me. If you like The Lobster, am I saying you’re wrong? No, I’m not. And I’m worried that this column will just get blowback from those who like the movie saying I didn’t get it. I don’t think that’s the case, but I’m prepared to have that conversation. It’s great that a movie engenders conversation in a day and age where so many movies don’t. This is simply just not a movie for me, but that doesn’t mean I want to let it off the hook for doing things I think are wrong-headed and harmful. It really grinds my gears.

To those who have seen the movie, what do you think? For those who haven’t, are there any movies you’ve seen that are widely acclaimed but just rub you the wrong way?


  1. I'm really glad to decided to write about this, Adam. How often to do think filmmakers will make a movie with the intent of audiences not enjoying it? I think that's the case with The Lobster.

    I think this movie captures today's dating scene, at least for people under the age of 30. With apps like Tinder and other similar platforms, people lie about their identity and in and cases are fake all together. There's no social interaction anymore, and if there is, it's usually bland and awkward.

    For those that are actually serious about dating, these things are frustrating and depressing. That's what I think this film highlighted and I appreciate it but it's also very sad.

    I don't think I'll ever revisit this film. Thanks for the review.

  2. While we may not see eye to eye on the film, I respect your opinion and appreciate you taking the time to write a thoughtful response.

    My main question is in spoiler territory, but you suggest that what Colin Farrell is going to do at the end of the movie actually happens. Wouldn't you say that the film purposefully doesn't show the action, leaving it in the hands of the viewer to decide if he did it or not? When my fiancé and I saw this a few weeks ago, we came out with opposite interpretations. She thinks he did because he loves her. I think he didn't and will just lie to her forever like his nosebleed friend because he's ultimately a coward. I hope that doesn't paint me in too bad of a light...

    1. SPOILER

      In my interpretation he did do it. If he was not going to do it, I don't think he would have gone as far as to raise the knife to his eye. Even if he doesn't do it, it makes the Rachel Weisz character (to me) wholly unlikeable because she is condoning him blinding himself. It's a bummer because up to this point in the movie, she's the most sympathetic character. In any event, it's either a) she's another bad female archetype or b) he's a coward who will lie to her to stay in a relationship.

      That at its core is what frustrates me so much about the movie. It's a point of view, sure, but it's so dystopian by the end that it doesn't allow any light in and is like trying to communicate to a brick wall. The filmmaker is immovable and nihilistic.


    I was hoping you'd write more about your thoughts on the movie after I saw your tweet mentioning the movie was sexist. While I didn't get that reading when I saw the movie—it's an interesting perspective. I saw all of the characters, both male and female, as pretty conniving. I loved the scene where the rebels go through the hotel and instead of causing bodily harm to the patrons, worked to unravel each relationship. But you're right, now that I think about it it was definitely more of the men that bent to the women's idiosyncrasies.

    I liked the imposition of yesteryear's dating standards on those of today—which may account for the sexism. I also liked that the movie poses the question what makes a relationship successful? Especially since that's such an arbitrary standard and (I think) an antiquated notion.

    As someone who has been an avid user of online dating in the past, I personally thought this movie was laugh out loud funny (literally no one else in the theater agreed...). It's sad and frustrating and absurd and it was refreshing to see the pointlessness of it all played out. I was also a HUGE fan of Dogtooth and really admire Lanthimos' tenacity in sticking to whacky concepts. Like the dude fucking commits.

    I appreciate a different read of the movie— I'm wondering if my love for Yorgos allowed me to excuse the prejudice, I'll definitely keep your gripes in mind for the second viewing (but maybe not for the fourth or fifth :) )

  4. I hated Dogtooth and thought it was the epitome of pretentious rubble, but had hope for this based on cast and the trailer made me giggle. Gonna come back to this after I watch it tmrw.

    1. I gotta disagree. I really liked Dogtooth and thought it was an interesting film. I didn't get any pretension from it whatsoever. It felt like a very personal story. As for the Lobster. I've had opportunities to see it for a long time now and for some reason I have little interest.

  5. Lucy was a movie I hated that (some) others liked. I found it insulting and smug. To be fair, though, the director's other movies share many of the same attributes. Maybe I just hit my saturation point with that one.

  6. How about this for an extended ending:


    Short-sighted man comes out of the restroom with blood dripping down his face. He is now blind. He sits across the table from Short-sighted woman, she takes off a pair of sunglasses and the audience can she that she is actually not blind. She gives the camera a devious smile and the credits roll.

    During the credits: a dog enters the room with his two owners that happen to be Short-sighted man's ex-wife and her new partner. The dog is his brother.

    Rationale for this ending, She's the sister of Heartless woman and wanted to exact revenge for her sister. The dog and ex-wife part is just an additional kick in the pants, maybe everyone set him up to fail, because they all hated him from the beginning.

  7. Just saw this movie last night and went back and re-read your review. I think your reaction is really interesting, and I can see a slightly different version of myself reacting the same way, were it not for a few specific instances in which I connected to the conceit. Its broad cleverness is earned, to me anyway.


    I don't know if I agree the movie is sexist. All the characters are pretty shitty to each other, and the women just tend to be more competent in their deceit. Farrell is guilty of some pretty terrible behavior here, as are the other men in the story. Aside from the two obvious violent acts, I think the men come off much worse.

    As far as Rachel Weisz' character at the end, I don't know if she's a bad person for "allowing" Farrell to do what he does. I think the movie establishes couples MUST have a superficial connection or it doesn't count. That's why they try to find something else after the eye incident. Given the choice, Farrell might prefer blindness over being hunted his entire life, and after the events of the film, both Farrell and Weisz face an uphill battle if they decide to go it alone. Leaving her may ultimately be a death sentence to both of them. It's ultimately his decision, so how is it on her to stop him? And anyway, I think it's interesting how the movie ends before we see the choice. Ultimately, we have to decide if Farrell loves her enough to make that choice for himself.

    What's interesting is how even though Weisz is only in the second half of the movie, it is her voice that tells the entire story. We are seeing Farrell's story at the hotel through her viewpoint. Ultimately, I think it gives her character a whole other dimension. I certainly understand her perspective more than Farrell's.

    That all being said, I'm still wrestling with why I didn't love the second half as much as the first. The first half is definitely more high concept, but I think the story needs the time in the woods to tell the larger story. It's where the movie must abandon its own superficiality and dig into the consequences of its high concept.

  8. I couldn't agree with you more on this review! I went into it knowing that I was going to get something zany, but holy hell was it drab. The overabundance of the monotone telling and not showing really irked me.

    "The Lobster thinks it’s very clever and will gladly go out of its way to remind you of that." YES. It was a hipster's wet dream, a poor man's version of a Wes Anderson.

    I don't get the hype.

    1. Agree wholeheartedly! And the effing repetitive music. I was ready to kill.

  9. A steaming piece o crap. No vision. No insight, just a pitiful playwright.