Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Lea Seydoux
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Deconstructing, rearranging, and inventing new rules of it's own, Yorgos Lanthimos's The Lobster is a surreal satire about how, as a society, we have placed absurd obstacles around dating, relationships, and marriage. There's also a cautionary tale about individualism, a story of forbidden love, and an often hilarious takedown of social mores thrown in here too. But most crucially, The Lobster is unlike anything you've ever seen, unless of course, you've managed to catch Dogtooth and Alps, Lanthimos's last two efforts, which were also unlike anything you've ever seen. That's just something that the Greek auteur is known for. No high concept is too high. No elevator pitch is too bizarre and unwieldy. No notion of verbal and physical communication is beyond poking and prodding at with a satirical knife. This time, he's effectively made another macabre riff on a societal mandate by funneling it through his precise formal technique and penchant for deadpan humor. The results are a film that, while just as strange and singular as his past work, may be the most accessible thing he's attempted yet. Perhaps that's just because the horrors of the dating game and the ritualistic nature of matrimony are so universally felt.
While Dogtooth saw a family creating it's own customs and language while cut off from the outside world, The Lobster centers most of the action inside a hotel for those seeking companionship in a near-future society where being single is outlawed. The film's central conceit is a doozy; those staying at the hotel have 45 days to find a mate or they will be turned into an animal of their own choosing. As crazy as that hook sounds on paper, Lanthimos's visual aesthetic is so detached and his actor's performances so droll, that things never spin into outright farce or camp. Rather, the tone is very removed, with much of the humor coming from intentionally stilted line deliveries and visual gags which work almost like arch cinematic paintings.
Getting it's title from the main character, David (Colin Farrell), a lonely man staying at the hotel who chooses a lobster as his go-to animal, the film effectively mines melancholic laughs out of undermining the ways in which we desperately strip away our sense of individuality in order to woo a desirable mate. Especially in our age of digital profiles and match-making services, The Lobster is prescient in revealing how surface level impressions form the basis for coupling. Along with David, a soft-spoken gentleman whose wife recently left him, there's Ben Whishaw as a hopeless romantic with a limp who goes to absurd lengths to find a match, like purposefully giving himself nosebleeds in order to impress a girl also prone to a similar "defining characteristic." There' s also John C. Reilly's awkward lisping sad-sack, whose romantic chances are so slim that he tries shooting David with a dart gun in the forest at one point in order to procure a few more days at the hotel; a detail that's humorously weaved in to show the world of single "loners" living out in the woods donning ponchos and listening exclusively to electronic music through headphones.
The film's final stretch, where David escapes from the hotel and falls for a rabbit-eating unnamed woman (Rachel Weisz) in the forest, ultimately highlights the limitations of Lanthimos's style. Unlike Dogtooth, which found shocking ways to explore notions of parenting or Alps, which took the idea of grief and wrapped it in an atmosphere of dread and mordent humor, The Lobster turns into a rather modest forbidden love story, albeit one spiked with Lanthimos's peculiar sensibilities and dashes of morbid violence. Despite strong performances; especially from Farrell, effectively cast against type delivering the flat dialogue in a hilariously stilted manner, and Weisz, who gives her character layers of vulnerability as the object of David's affection, the picture's last act finds the rather brilliant central premise spinning it's wheels a bit. Once the forest-dwelling leader (Lea Seydoux, icy and mysterious) takes matters into her own hands to disrupt romantic sparks between the two, most of Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou's provocative ideas have already been utilized. Therefore, the movie's noble attempts at conjuring a sense of pathos and emotional gravitas, though underplayed, feel somewhat at odds with the predetermined style of filmmaking on display throughout.
Despite it's flaws, The Lobster is an achievement in taking what sounds like an unfilmable premise and giving it the unique Lanthimos branding. While it lacks the jaw-dropping audacity of Dogtooth or the visceral nihilism of Alps, it nonetheless displays a filmmaker fully in command of his aesthetic. So much so, in fact, that this may signal a worrying trend of gimmickry unless he tries his hand at some novel variations. Otherwise, he may find himself on the opposite end of the Wes Anderson or Michael Haneke spectrum; unable to pull away from the arch originality of his own ideas in order to tell a story that works on more than a few basic levels. Still, when such ideas work as well as they do cinematically despite their inherent weirdness, and most of The Lobster works exactly in the way its intended, it's tough to argue with the Lanthimos approach.