satire

The Lobster

The Lobster made me think of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi short stories I read as a teenager, where some “what if” premise would be taken to an absurd extreme, except that this movie does it with an extra helping of bonkers. If you’re a fan of out-there scenarios, the summary should grab you instantly. Here goes: in the dystopian world of The Lobster, it’s illegal to be single. If you’re divorced, widowed or just unattached, you get sent to a high-security hotel in the countryside, where you have 45 days to find a new partner among the fellow singles. Those who fail to pair up are then turned into an animal of their choice and remain that way for the rest of their lives. David (Colin Farrell), the main hero of the film, tells the manager of the hotel that he’d like to cast his lot with the crustaceans, and be turned into a lobster. Lobsters, he says, can live for hundred years, and he quite enjoys swimming.

The absurdity doesn’t stop here. In this society, people believe that the only way to find a suitable partner is a perfect match-up of a single defining attribute. Thus, a person suffering from a nosebleed must be paired up with another similarly afflicted person. If a single is desperate enough, they might fake an attribute. Once in a while, the hotel bus takes the “guests” on a trip to the woods where they hunt for rogue singles with stun guns; for each captured single you get an extra day reprieve.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a group of militant Loners, who live in the nearby woods. Ruled by the Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux in a frightening and charismatic performance), their society is just as cruel and authoritarian, punishing those who form romantic relationships or even attempt any kind of flirtation. They dig their own graves to spare others the effort of burial, and organize silent disco parties where each Loner dances to their own electronic music with the headphones on. After failing to make himself fit in at the hotel, David falls in with the Loners, and begins a forbidden affair with another Loner, called The Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz).

This movie is… an acquired taste. For the first half an hour or so, I found it extremely grating and pretty much everything about it got on my nerves: the narration, obnoxious use of slo-mo, artificial dialogue and emotionless line deliveries (very much deliberately so, but still), the whole look at me, look at me, I’m different and quirkyyyyy. A bit like Wes Anderson movies minus the whimsy, pastel colours and visual splendour. Also, I think I’m over the cliché of setting dark and violent scenes against a charming and lighthearted soundtrack. I think the only reason I kept on watching was to find out what weirdness the movie was going to throw at me next.

While I hesitate to say that I loved the movie in the end, its peculiar approach did sink in after a while and I could appreciate it more. Colin Farrell is excellent as the sad-sack protagonist, and eventually I got invested in David’s fate and his love life. The movie is clearly making fun of our society’s obsession with coupledom and the rigid rituals of dating; is it really an issue that needed to be highlighted with a pitch-black satire? Maybe not, but I’m happy to have watched this oddity.

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Dr. Strangelove

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Finally got to watch the classic Stanley Kubrick political satire/black comedy about that most hilarious subject, the global nuclear holocaust.

So, during the 60s Cold War, a demented US general Jack Ripper decides to bypass those pesky politicians, and launch an unauthorised attack on the no-good Commies who poison the American population’s bodily fluids by adding fluoride to the water supply. The whole film takes place in pretty much three locations: an office where Ripper is locked together with Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers), a horrified British liaison; the interior of the B-52 bomber on its way to drop some nukes; and the famous War Room, where the President of the United States (Sellers again) and his advisors frantically try to stop the impending nuclear wipeout, with the help of the Soviet ambassador and a former Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers once again). The special effects of the plane “flying” over Russia are rather dated, but the War Room is honestly one of the most striking and iconic pieces of film set design, which most recently got a nod in Mathew Vaughn’s 60-s based X-Men: First Class.

I watched the making of documentary included in the extras afterwards, and incredibly this movie actually started out as completely straight and serious, before the writers turned it instead into a biting satire that finds the absurdity and humour in the most nightmarish and apocalyptic scenario, and the way a chain of seemingly logical decisions lead the humanity to a disastrous outcome. It’s a sort of comedy that elicits dry chuckles rather than laugh-out-loud reactions, but it’s undoubtedly filled with sharp writing and great comic performances. Peter Sellers’ triple turn is inspired, and Dr. Strangelove, who just can’t shake off his former Nazi habits, is a particularly grotesque creation. I had no idea that James Earl Jones was in the movie, and it was a bit disorienting to hear that instantly recognisable voice. If I closed my eyes, I’d be like, why does Darth Vader want to bomb the Soviet Union?

My only beef with the movie is, if Stanley Kubrick was such a total bloody-minded perfectionist, why is the Soviet ambassador’s “Russian” so godawful I could barely understand him when he supposedly speaks in his native tongue with the Soviet head of state? Alas, dodgy mangled Russian is everywhere, even in Stanley Kubrick movies.