Yorgos Lanthimos‘ hysterically deadpan comedy The Lobster is something else. It plays like a satire on the power which human beings and human beings only have given to courtship, and the way single people, especially those who dare be content in that state, are viewed by society as opposed to couples – sincere about their supposed happiness or otherwise. In it, a dystopian future is depicted, where those who are single, thus of the lowest class imaginable, are forced to go to a heavily monitored hotel and find a new mate before 45 days have passed, lest they be turned into an animal and banished to the wilderness. Extra days are earned if residents at the hotel manage to hunt and kill “Loners”, forest-dwelling outlaws who have rejected the idea of partnership entirely.
It’s an absurd version of our world indeed, but something about the writing and the way in which the characters speak makes it believable that the world we’re shown has naturally evolved to this point. The actors pull it off well, and I feel like Colin Farrell‘s performance in this film is possibly one of the Oscar snubs this year.
Farrell plays David, whose wife has left him for a different man, thus he goes to the aforementioned hotel to find a new partner or become a beast of his choice. He chooses a lobster. He later befriends two socially non-functioning men, a lisping ditz played by John C. Reilly and a limping autist (?) played by Ben Whishaw, and tries to feign apathy to make a mate out of a heartless woman (Angeliki Papouila), whose main concern when one of the residents jumps from the hotel roof and survives is how irritating her screaming is. This doesn’t go too well for David, as the woman stomps his brother-turned-dog to death one night to see if he cares enough to cry, which he promptly does. Did I mention this is a black comedy?
David is sent to be punished for his lies but manages to escape with the help of a benevolent maid (Ariane Labed). He joins the Loners in the forest and encounters their leader played by Léa Seydoux, her second-in-command played by Michael Smiley (adding to the fact that this feels very much like a Black Mirror episode), and the narrator of the film played by Rachel Weisz, whom he forms an extraordinary connection with upon realizing they’re both shortsighted. Unfortunately, the people running the hotel aren’t the only ones who are very strict about how one’s life should be lived.
An amusing recurring visual gag is made from the fact that the Loners live among the single people who have already been turned to animals. It’s not uncommon that a random camel crosses the screen while characters sit and talk.
As much as this film resonates with my view on the modern-day dating world and the (in my opinion) irrational fears of being alone, I did start to lose interest during the second half where the setting shifts from the hotel to the Loner camp, plus a nearby city which David and the Loners sneak into. The greyish colors and re-used violin theme, great as it is, got semi-old at a certain point. Fortunately, it picks up again when they return to the hotel to dish out some revenge with a side-order of truth regarding forced relationships and bit of comedy. I got a good snicker during a scene when David visits Whishaw’s character and the latter’s new partner, a perpetually nosebleeding woman (Jessica Barden), and their 5-year-old daughter enthusiastically requests that David be killed with a knife.
Movies that are nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category, which in the case of The Lobster is its only nomination, are usually the ones I’m most excited for. My reasoning is that, as the name suggests, this is where you’re most likely to find something truly original that isn’t based on anything – be it real-world events, pre-existing books, or a movie that already exists and demands neither remakes nor sequels. That said, there were some things that The Lobster made me think of as I watched it. Something about how the society it depicts has been split into two opposing extremes reminded me of Demolition Man and the Loners for some reason made me think of the vegetarians in Delicatessen.
It’s a little bit too late now, but if you’re trying to suffer through Valentine’s Day every year and you need something refreshingly bleak that doesn’t tell you why you need to find a date ASAP, that you need to buy something cute for your partner because love is measured with money, that you will always find someone no matter what realities intrude, or that you simply must go see Fifty Shades Darker, then The Lobster is sure to be the most satisfying movie you’ve seen in ages. It is going to disturb many viewers, but that is only going to comfort other viewers that much more.
Despite the short-comings, I would definitely call this one of my favorite movies I didn’t see in preparation for my Favorite Films of 2016 list. But then again, it did have its festival premieres in 2015 so some would argue I’m even more late to the party. In due time, I will nevertheless update my Best of 2016 post with a list of retroactive additions (with a film like Moonlight, I can at least rely on the excuse that it’s a 2017 release in my native country and hence include it on my next list). I will tell you straight away that The Lobster is one entry you can expect. It’s a movie we could all use, even and especially if you’re of the romantic persuasion and won’t enjoy it very much.