Common to absurdist thought are elements of satire, agnosticism, and nihilism.
The art form rose up in the late nineteenth century, with philosopher types like Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Kurt Vonnegut leading the way.
Now if you are looking for some more memorable and mainstream examples of absurdist thought via film, then I’ll happily include some.
Wet Hot American Summer, Eraserhead, The Big Lebowski, all of the different Alice in Wonderland iterations, most Monty Python works, and Woody Allen movies are all great for a short list to help frame the conversation of today’s review.
The Lobster (2016)
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Ben Wishaw, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, Angeliki Papoulia, Ashley Jensen
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
*technically released on blu-ray August 2, 2016
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, Audience Score 69%
The Guardian: ***/*****
Yorgos Lanthimos is a Greek film and theatre director. Known for his experimental projects, Lanthimos has directed five feature length films to date. And so we arrive at The Lobster.
The Lobster is a an absurdist drama with some comedy, set in a universe where single people have 45 days to find a romantic partner or be turned into an animal of their choosing.
Lanthimos does a fantastic job of setting us up within this universe almost immediately. David (Colin Farrell) is a newly-single man that has been dumped by his wife for another man. He is sent to a hotel with other single people to find a partner within a 45 day period. David brings his brother, who has been turned into a dog, with him. As he is checked in, the hotel clerk asks him questions about his history of sexual partners and explains the rules of the hotel.
He makes quick friends with a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly) and a man with a limp (Ben Wishaw), and we learn that the limping man gained his limp because his mother was turned into a wolf and he entered the zoo she lived in to visit but was mauled by other wolves. We also learn that partners must have a distinct trait in common, so the limping man eventually fakes a nosebleed condition so that he can partner up with a woman that regularly bleeds (Jessica Barden).
David decides to pursue the most cruel woman (Angeliki Papoulia) in the place, the one who regular tranquilizes the most single people who have escaped and hide in the forest. As a consequence another woman who loves biscuits (Ashley Jensen), decides to kill herself and David feigns cold aloofness though he is definitely disturbed. The cruel woman agrees he is a match after testing him, but ultimately he fails a second test when she kicks his dog brother to death and David cries.
As a consequence, David is turned in by the cruel woman and will be turned into a lobster for lying, but he escapes and instead turns the cruel woman into an animal which is never revealed to us.
Once in the forest, David stumbles upon the group of loners, headed by a female leader (Lea Seydoux). The loners also have a seriously odd set of rules, and they won’t let people couple up at all. Of course, this is where David meets the short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) and starts to fall in love.
But I won’t reveal any more, because I think you should watch the movie to enjoy it proper.
Pros: Lanthimos has raised a scathing review of both coupling up and those who live a single life. It refuses to tell you what you should do, but expects you to feel uncomfortable about societal expectations on both ends.
Cons: The ultimate bleakness of the movie is difficult to stomach at first, and admittedly it falls a little flat on the comedy in it’s resolution.
Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes
Points of Interest: The movie is filmed almost entirely with natural light and without make-up. Colin Farrell gained 40 pounds to portray David.
Overall, The Lobster is an excellent conceptual commentary, and it does a great job in the first two thirds to communicate it’s message of the absolutes of coupling vs singledom. For instance, the acknowledgement that faking character traits is wrong, and that masturbation can limit our sex drive to pursue a match is biologically a problem, do a great job of addressing the fallacies of the topic. But when we get to the forest, we aren’t offered humorous anecdotes as much as bitter stoicism.
It’s an interesting movie, but not fully cooked. I might recommend some salad to get a complete meal.
Now before I close out this post, I should make it clear while this movie isn’t perfect, Yorgos Lanthimos is in good company with hi oeuvre of work, and The Lobster is a fine example of his development and his ability to address that which many of us would rather ignore – either by going it alone or following the norm. But that’s just a theory.