The Lobster is the latest film from Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), which is surely to be the strangest you’ll see this year, but will also be one of the best. Having premiered at the Cannes film festival, the film is a dark twist on the rom-com genre that skewers a range of social norms, but sets it’s sights squarely on satirising modern romance.
Set in a dystopian near-future, the newly single David (Collin Farrell) checks into the ‘Hotel’ to find his perfect partner. Being single has been outlawed in this world, and if David is unable to find love within forty-five days, he will be turned into the animal of his choosing – a lobster. Here David meets fellow bachelors: the Lisping Man (John C Reilly) and the Limping Man (Ben Wishaw), who are also under pressure to find their matches by the overbearing Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman). There is, however, a group of escaped singles known as the Loners, that have made a camp in the nearby woodlands and refrain from any form of interaction beyond friendship. Yet, they are persistently hunted by the singles of the Hotel, who receive extra days to find love if they are able to shoot the Loners with a tranquilliser gun.
It would be easy to make some simple comparisons to the styles of other directors, like Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman, but Lanthimos has created a film so wonderfully unique that it deserves to stand on it’s own without attempting to dissect it for contrast. To describe watching the film, is to perhaps liken it to an awkward interaction that spans a full two hours. Characters don’t hesitate to blurt out thoughts from their inner monologues, speaking in quite literal terms, and conversing in an overly direct and formal manner.
Lanthimos has a clear aim in lampooning a number of facets of romance and deconstructing just how ridiculous social pressures placed on coupling up have become in the modern world, which he does in a raw, absurd and sometimes wicked manner. Couples at the Hotel are encouraged to find “love” through defining features, like nose bleeds, and are content when they find others with similar issues. It’s this type of superficial courtship though, that current dating apps like Tinder and the like, tend to rely on in making matches. Meanwhile, those that have escaped are no better off and, as singles, are forced into a life of complete celibacy instead.
Farrell (True Detective) delivers one of his strongest performances as the constantly uneasy protagonist, and his comedic abilities are well on display. It’s definitely an unusual film choice for him, but he seems to thrive in playing a vulnerable character that is oppressed by overbearing forces. Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea) is equally wonderful as the Short Sighted Woman, a member of the loner group, who narrates much of David’s journey while also hilariously demonstrating that narration is sometimes pointless. The two have great chemistry, and watching them as they secretly communicate in the Loner camp is a highlight.
The film also sports a stellar supporting cast with Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph), Wishaw (Skyfall) and Colman (Broadchurch), who all contribute equally hilarious and disturbing characters. Ashley Jensen (Extras) makes an entertaining appearance as the utterly desperate Biscuit Woman, as does Angeeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth) as the truly Heartless Woman. The most ruthless performance, however, goes to Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour) who, as the leader of the Loners, sets out to ensure that everyone remains single, even at the cost of mutilation. Lanthimos has capitalised on having gathered such talented and formidable players, and their commitment to bringing his odd world to life really lifts the quality of the production overall.
The films only real downfall is that it loses some wind in its last act. Once David begins his relationship with the Short Sighted Woman, the films starts to lose the creative energy that it thrives on in the first half and begins to adopt the more traditional elements of a rom-com. The climax then loses some satisfaction due to it playing out it in a fairly predictable fashion, and also because it feels that a film such as this should be much smarter in the way it draws all the different characters of the film together in it’s conclusion.
Some may not be in tune with the absurd world of The Lobster, but most should find some fragment of reflection from their own dating experiences, or simply the mere awkward nature that can be social interaction.