The challenges of being single may be a nightmare for some, but spare a thought for poor, short-sighted David (Colin Farrell), a man running out of time to find a mate, or else he will be turned into the titular sea creature. The Lobster takes the viewer to an alienating alternate reality where the social pressure to escape a solitary existence is exaggerated by the powers that be, that keep strict controls on the single population.
David is the paunchy, unlucky-in-love man whose previous relationship lasted almost twelve years, but is now booked in to a hotel where singles are forced to either pair up for life, or they will be transformed into an animal of their choice. David chooses to become a lobster but on arrival at the hotel, is given matching suits with the other male members, and 45 days to find a female partner. Accompanied by his brother, who was unsuccessful in his quest for love and so is now a dog, David meets fellow single men Robert (John C. Reilly) and John (Ben Whishaw) and begins the search for his perfect match. The singles are kept segregated from those that have formed into blossoming couples and are attempting to make a go of relationships. If the stress of finding a lover wasn’t enough, the singles are forced to hunt for ‘loners’ who have opted out of ordinary society and now live a wild existence in nearby woods. Catch one of these socially unacceptable loners and the singletons buy themselves extra days to stay in the hotel.
The Lobster, while spending time at the hotel full of wonderful strange characters, is a satirical delight. The routines, rules and ordeals that the socially awkward singletons endure are both humiliating and frequently hilarious. From his arrival at the hotel where David is asked to choose his sexuality, with bisexual not being an option, it is clear that The Lobster is reveling in the absurd. However, as barmy as director Yorgos Lanthimos’ idea is, he milks it for all that it’s worth and creates an immersive logic to the hotel and its surreal social ordering. Singles that progress in relationships are rewarded with bigger rooms and increased privileges, but they are also tested to see if their love can last.
The obsession with compatibility and the benefits of being in a partnership are drummed into the hotel’s inhabitants in scenes that are cringe-inducingly amusing. Guests watch performances by the staff that warn of the threat of choking when eating alone, or the threat of rape when women dare to stroll without a partner. All this is played for dry laughs and the first half of the film; set mostly in the hotel is rippling with inventiveness and humour. Even dark moments including an attempted suicide are absurdly, and tragically, comical.
It’s only when The Lobster steps outside of the confines of the hotel that the pace begins to lag and the non-stop ideas of the first half start to dissipate as the story takes a new direction. Out in the woods, David meets Rachel Weisz’s nameless character and the group of “loners”, individuals he was formerly forced to hunt while residing at the hotel. However, the ruthless leader of the loners, played by Lea Seydoux, soon tarnishes the freedom that David finds from society’s pressures to jump into a monogamous relationship.
While getting lost in the woods, The Lobster also largely dismisses two of its welcome leads in Reilly and Whishaw. The absence of their characters, with their sympathetic so-called ‘distinguishing characteristics’ is felt throughout the second half. Whishaw’s limping lad makes a go of a relationship with a young woman, while Reilly’s lisping chronic masturbator seems destined for the transformation room. Meanwhile, Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz try to slip their developing romance under the watchful glance of the leader of the loners.
Lanthimos keeps his world weirdly convincing, even if he runs out of new ideas before the end. He piles on horror movie undertones throughout, with the beautiful hotel and woods all situated on a wet and windy coastline and the autumnal colours adding to a creeping melancholy that seeps into every frame. When peering down the corridors of the hotel, The Lobster appears like a less sinister vision of The Shining if Lars von Trier had got his hands on the script.
Familiar faces from British television, Olivia Colman and Michael Smiley, also appear but this is really Farrell’s film to carry. The cast are all directed to speak in utterly odd ways, a bit like they are reading from a script, and a bit like they are all on the autistic spectrum. Weisz’s voiceover sounds like it is being read from a book, giving The Lobster an alluringly odd tone throughout. It loses its way a little in the second half, but for much of the running time, The Lobster is an absurd and highly inventive gem.
About the Author
Peter Turner Senior Reporter & Critic for Tastic Film Magazine.