The Lobster is a wonderfully bizarre, dystopian love story from writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s officially categorized under both comedy and drama, but this Cannes festival winner features an undercurrent of tragedy that makes laughs hard to come by.
The premise is fascinating: possibly due to a dwindling population, the law requires all single people to find a partner within forty five days. To facilitate this, “loners” are taken to live in a grand, but sterile, hotel where they must live under very strict regulations. There they learn about the benefits of becoming part of a couple, mingle a bit and, hopefully, find a match. Simple enough…but there’s much more than just romance at stake. If they do not find a suitable partner before their days run out, loners are transformed into the animal of their choice. To get in the spirit for this beastly possibility, they’re armed with tranquilizer guns and subjected to “hunts” each evening. The more loners you take down, the more days are added to your time and the likelier you’ll remain human with a new match.
The absurdity of these circumstances is the source of any and all humor in The Lobster. But, as time marches on and our protagonist (David, played by Colin Farrell) decides to take his fate into his own hands, the stakes somehow get even higher. It soon becomes clear that this is hollow, mostly loveless matchmaking. Couples are considered legitimate only if they share some kind of superficial trait: limps, nearsightedness, even a propensity for nosebleeds. Loners often fake these idiosyncrasies to try and be matched with those they find attractive. It’s all a “hunt,” so to speak, and tensions are particularly high for those who’s loved ones have been turned into animals. David fakes his way into a short-lived relationship with an emotionless woman, but he fails to remain stoic when she kills his brother (now a pet dog in his care) and he’s forced to flee the hotel to avoid punishment. There he joins a group of other escapees living in the forest, one of whom ends up being David’s true love, played by Rachel Weisz.
Weisz and Farrell are totally compelling, although it’s clear that Lanthimos has instructed his actors to speak in a stilted monotone. Other notable cast members are Ben Whishaw, Leá Seydoux, Ashley Jensen and John C. Reilly. Jensen and Reilly give really memorable performances as two of the least calm loners; unsuited for hunting and just as appalled by the situation as we are. The Lobster is essentially a film school fever dream. To get a sense of its general vibe, imagine a mashup of The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Village. There are quite a few wide, unmoving shots that lull us into a numbing sense of routine, especially in the hotel. These are, of course, punctuated with unexpected moments of chaos and violence. The score is classical and mostly nonexistent, but artfully done when it does pop up. The film’s color palette is very muted with hardly any sunshine throughout.
We halfway expect the world to be vivid once David leaves the hotel, a la Dorothy’s colorful entrance into Oz, but that’s not the case. This is one of our main clues into The Lobster’s message: we’re all animals, essentially. We forget about that part of ourselves. Mankind has developed a myriad of distractions to keep us in the echo chamber of our own minds; an endless loop of self. But if you take away our clothes, selfish passions and modern conveniences, people are much more the same than they are different. We’re fragile animals just trying to survive – and maybe find someone to survive for.
The Lobster is very well done, but not necessarily for everyone. The plot starts to get a tad convoluted once David enters the forest, although this is where the “love story” aspect comes into play. Not your typical love story, however. If you enjoy unusual films and have a high tolerance for brutality, you’ll be glad to have seen it.
The Lobster is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for Sexual Content Including Dialogue, and Some Violence. Coming soon to Redbox.