I appreciate this might sound a bit niche. Certainly it is different from my friend Caroline’s very beautiful post about being homesick while watching Brooklyn, but in sense it comes from a similar root: how we experience films while hefting the weight of the baggage we we carry into them.
When I walked out of a recent screening of The Lobster – a ShowFilmFirst freebie to celebrate the home entertainment release – the first thing I said, and subsequently tweeted, was this:
— Alexandra Goldstein (@mokuska) February 8, 2016
You’d be forgiven for wondering what I actually meant by that, since generalisation is invariably dangerous territory and, wait, wasn’t My Big Fat Greek Wedding Greek humour? But I’m tempted to say, cop-out though it sounds, that you have to be Greek to understand. (Think about it: the family are pretty self-parodying, sharp and even cruel to each other even if the bigger picture is dressed up in bundt cakes, confetti and that Windex thing – which was totally product placement given everyone knows all Greeks are obsessed with surgical spirit.)
The thing is, The Lobster isn’t set in Greece and its themes are not uniquely Greek. The wittily savage satire on love and companionship, the ties that truly bind and the superficiality of things we have in common is absolutely universal. But the preoccupation with stripping away the peripheral, with bitterly and wryly revealing the hypocrisy and hopelessness at our cores – that seems to me very Greek; whether I’d notice it so clearly if I didn’t know Yiorgos Lanthimos was behind it is a fair question, but there it is all the same. Many years before my parents’ homeland suffered the economic collapse it will be wading stickily through for years to come, all the jokes, stories and arguments I can remember hearing as a child had certain thematic similarities, no matter which friend or relative related them: that person is pretending to be someone they’re not – we all see through them. Those politicians can’t be trusted; it’s all front. Slapstick. Puffery. Craftiness. Isn’t life just… ridiculous?
If the Brits are generally accused of rooting for an underdog and hobbling their heroes, the Greeks I know are way too cynical to create any heroes to begin with.
Don’t mistake me for suggesting this is a bad thing. Besides, as uncomfortable as it can be to sit with a foot in two different locations, as long as you have a well-padded saddle the route you navigate is pretty scenic. You get to see the best and worst of everything and dole out the stereotypes with relative impunity. To love the Brits for their weird languages and joyously weirder subcultures and the Greeks for their raised eyebrows and jocularity. To scorn both the repressiveness of the full stiff upper lip and the unbridled selfishness of the Mediterranean tantrum (while, of course, reserving your right to indulge in both).
The Lobster effortlessly plays around with brutality and misguided sweetness. With desperation and devotion. It is as relentless as it is funny, as manipulative as it is derisive of manipulation. It nods its head, it reminds you that we are all complicit and we can hardly help but being. It was an Irishman who wrote – the Irish friends I have seem to me to share a sympatico sensibility with Greeks on certain things, including guilt, faith and being naturally suspicious of authority – that “each man kills the thing he loves“. The Lobster plays in exactly these waters, in what we are capable of and what transformations we undertake to stay afloat, even if it goes against everything we think we value. And despite how pathetic its protagonists can be and the savage bleakness it reveals, I can’t help feeling the underlying message is actually oddly… reassuring. We don’t have to choose a side. We don’t have to be part of a faction. Humanity can never cleave unbendingly to one single ideology, so we never have to expect complete perfection or conformity from anyone. We are silly, silly creatures, living silly lives, but no less human for it. And if humanity has any value, it must have it at its worst as well as its best.
That’s practically philosophical, isn’t it? Well, that kind of the thing is in the blood…