Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Efthimis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Relationships can be weird, harsh and confusing as can be seen in Lanthimos’ surrealist satire. The agonies of being alone, the pressures of finding a perfect partner and the apathies of coupledom are all given a dark and bizarre turn in this absurdist comedy. The Lobster tackles these themes by depicting a dystopian future where the very concept of love and romance is non-existent. Instead the ritual of finding a mate has been desensitised into an unfeeling process of cruel methods and ludicrous regulations as these forlorn souls attempt to find suitable mates who match their singular defining characteristics. The subjects of this film are a stilted, deadpan people who exhibit absolutely no capacity for imagination or passion. It depicts a dark and bleak image of the future where love has become an unfeeling, mechanical process robbed of all feeling and purpose.
David (Colin Farrell), upon being left by his wife, is required by law to stay at a resort so that he might find himself a new partner. The Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) informs him that he will have 45 days to find a match or else he will be transformed into an animal of his choice. David decides that should he fail then he would like to become a lobster, an animal that lives for over a century, is blue-blooded (like aristocrats) and gets to live in the sea. Amongst his fellow residents are the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and the Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), unhappy daters who have all defined themselves by a single characteristic by which they hope to form a bond with a potential partner. When David proves unsuccessful in his efforts he escapes the resort and falls into the company of the Loners, those who have rejected the custom of enforced coupledom, led by the Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux). It is here that David meets the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) whose defining characteristic is one that he shares.
The first half of this film is superb. The hotel in which the dating convention takes place is hilariously dreary and oppressive in the way it forces its miserable occupants into coupledom. The residents must partake in ridiculous exercises such as going about their daily activities with an arm tied behind their backs as a reminder of how two is always better than one. The candidness of everyone’s speech and the deadpan way in which they compose themselves serves to reinforce the simultaneous absurdity and misery that these characters are forced to undergo and does so to a uniquely droll effect. I was astonished at how oddly funny and unsettlingly cruel this film could be in its portrayal of these contrived romances and the pressures and fears that drive these characters to suffer them. A particular highlight for me was when one character became so desperate for companionship that he continuously forced his own nose to bleed as a way of attracting a woman who was prone to nosebleeds.
The second half of this film, when David escapes into the woods to join the loners, is when the film lost me. I think the problem was that the film tried to take its idea too far and ended up getting lost. What had started off as being strange and baffling (in the best way possible) soon became inane and confusing to me. I understood that the Loners were supposed to serve as a foil to the Hotel with their equally oppressive anti-coupledom laws, but beyond that I just didn’t understand where the film was trying to go or what it wanted me to take away. It didn’t help that the woods and its inhabitants were not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as the wonderfully preposterous hotel. I found the film’s latter half to be little more than consecutive sequences of aimless wandering until it suddenly all comes to an abrupt end. Maybe there is a point to be taken away from all that but in the end my thoughts were left more confused than stimulated.
Through its peculiar and inventive concept The Lobster is able to provide a strange yet reflective commentary on the practices of dating, marriage and relationships, along with the customs and pressures that they carry, that I wish had been more fully realised. The film’s understated direction, odd characters and uncomfortable atmosphere allowed for a fascinating and engrossing film to start with, but as the film’s course strayed more and more my interest waned. I enjoyed the film for its quirkiness and style, but those can only take you so far if the story itself fails to be engaging. When it was all over I found myself at a loss over what the film was trying to say or what it wanted me to take away. While there is much to enjoy in this dark, eccentric comedy, especially in its tremendous first half, I think that overall The Lobster is an example of how tiring that Wes-Anderson-esque quirkiness can get when the film loses track of itself.