The Lobster (2015) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: Not rated but would definitely be R for violence, disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, and language
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Jessica Barden, Ariane Labed
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Review published December 15, 2015
Love it or be mystified by it, but one thing you'll also come away with after seeing The Lobster is that there aren't many movies quite like it. At its heart, it is a truly absurd and pitch dark comedy, skewering the typical love and romance tropes found in many of today's comedies, equating the need to find relationships fulfillment of being a human being, and suffering, pain and death if not found in a reasonable time period, at least as dictated by our modern society that devalues those who might prefer to be alone in life.
A crestfallen version of Colin Farrell (Winter's Tale, Epic) stars as David, a doughy, near-sighted man recently jilted by his wife who ends up getting taken to a hotel in a remote, wooded destination where newly single adults go in order to find a new mate within 45 days, or be turned into an animal of his choosing. He chooses a lobster, if he doesn't make it, for their longevity and ability to procreate for their entire lives. Bizarre things go on in the hotel, including chastity belts worn only by those alone for the evening, hunting parties with tranquilizer guns who are granted additional days to find a mate depending on their performance in hunting 'loners' who refuse to play by the rules, and the urging of coupling with those who share their individual afflictions, from limps to lisps.
Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, ALPS) directs this strange alternate universe, near-future setting, which feels cold, oppressive, and bizarre. It's his first English-language feature-length effort, with a little French thrown in, still quite astute, even if it's not his mother tongue, thanks to the uniqueness of the story and a very solid cast, most of whom are in complete deadpan mode. Many of the characters have been stripped away from their emotions, as if there is little joy to be found in their continued existence. The hotel beats it into their minds that it is much more advantageous and safe to be in a relationship with someone than it is to be alone. If you cant find a mate, you don't even deserve to continue as a person in this world.
The Lobster is narrated by Rachel Weisz (Oz the Great and Powerful, Definitely Maybe), who also plays a significant character David meets later in the film, when he meets a splinter group of loners who've decided that pairing up shall also be forbidden among them, in direct opposition to the requirements of the hotel, which represents the establishment. They are obsessed more with death than love, and in being alone - they even dance alone, together, through the use of headphones, all playing their own tunes so that they never identify with one another as anything but fellow loners. Both extremes seem equally foreign to David, who merely goes through the motions given to him by those in charge, but who doesn't understand the rationale, and who eventually sees little reason why everyone must conform to the will of those in charge. Just as he can't choose both sexes to be attracted to, or for half-sizes when it comes to shoes, the people in this world are often told what to do, what they cannot, and there is not wiggle room allowed, or face harsh punishment.
Not many will be in tune with the surreal satire that The Lobster represents, and I will admit that there is much of it that went well over my head at the time I was viewing it. Later, in retrospect, I feel I understood enough of it such that it makes a much more sense the more I dissect the parts. It's a deliberately disjointed piece of storytelling, intentionally meant to keep you off guard, full of strange framing shots and offbeat sense of music and theatrics. It's also a cruel and unusually sadistic world, with people who are far from kind to one another, willing to insult, maim, or kill one another, or kill themselves, because things aren't going according to how they others think they should be. The first half of the film, set in the hotel, is more enjoyable than the second, set out in a forest, as the movie descends into areas that aren't as rife with bizarre rituals, and takes some turns with the characters that aren't as rewarding to observe. As a concluding half meant to be in direct contrast to the first, it's necessary, even if less entertaining.
Not everyone will make it to the end of The Lobster, but for those who do, it's one of those films that might merit a repeat viewing to fully appreciate all of it symbolic complexities. Like the titular crustacean, it may seem initially impenetrable, but it's something worth savoring for those determined to get to the meat of the matter.
©2015 Vince Leo