Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos (UK Grc) Jacqueline
Abrahams, Roger Ashton-Gritthihs. Jessica Bardon
viewed Tyneside Cinema 3 November 2015; ticket: £7.75
Middle management entertainment
I recall in the late 70’s that it was the height of trendiness to go on gruelling self improvement courses such as EST (Erhard Seminar Training). In these mass seminars the attendees were subjected to a level of intimidatory discipline and control that was supposed to clarify self knowing. Later in 2000’s I worked for the sort of medium sized company that sent their middle managers on ‘training courses’. On these sort of courses you were sometimes asked to do things like walk around with a balloon between your legs. It was supposed to do things like build team spirit and create self confidence. I struggled to relate these sort of tasks to anything that a manager was paid to do.
‘Lobster’ as scenario presented as an amalgamation of these two strands of programming individuals.
Lanthimos’ ‘Lobster’ was perhaps written as a parody of the sort of above practices to which individuals both voluntarily and involuntarily are subjected. The problem is that these sort of events, both EST and training modules with their atmospheres of earnest self conscious commitment already teeter of the verge of parody. And parodic retread of these types of events is tricky: a parody itself cannot be parodied, as there is no actual grounding of the material.
As a writer/director Yorgas Lanthimos had to find some expressive paradigm, if his film was to appeal beyond the ranks of middle managerial wannabees, a strata in society who of course would enjoy seeing some sort of homage paid to their world.
Lanthimos tries at first a situationalist solution to give his idea of pairing off the emotionally dead under pain of zoological transmigration. The idea is framed as a sort of game show taking place in a residential country retreat. A sort of gentrified Salo scripted by Agatha Christy: butlers majors and fat ladies.
But the frame doesn’t solve anything, as the frame is again a type of parody which resists. The answer arrived at in the script is to go for ‘weird’. To script the film so that it becomes even weirder than its initial proposition.
The problem here is that although American movies do ‘weird’ with some success, perhaps because middle american ideals are built about a sort of planned conformity, Brit movies trying to do ‘weird’ usually lurch into Monty Python absurdity. Different territory. And Lanthimos’ weird fails to deliver in his scenario, as it veers all over the place, trying in desperation to find a finger hold in the wall of increasing inconsequentiality of the script.
In the final throw of the dice, the Lanthimos tries to edge into Orwellian turf, with its false oppositions and Big Brother iconography. The Orwellian gesture involves the film suddenly trying to present itself as ‘real’: to make the bodies of those acting out roles, sites of intensity. But the absurd, does do actual physical intensity only the idea of the physical as in Life of Brian. So the final event in Lobster, in the darkness as the protagonist effects an act of self disocculation, is no more than a banality.
Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org