Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou (as Efthimis Filippou)
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden
The Lobster takes place in an absurd, dystopian, near-future where people can’t be single, there’s an actual law been created forbidding it, and security guards stalk around wilfully harassing and demanding certification from anybody looking even remotely alone. This is of course rather unfortunate for our main protagonist, David, played by an almost unrecognisable Colin Farrell, who’s been given the heave-ho by his wife, leaving him in the unenviable position of having to find another partner within 45 days. You see singletons are left with two options upon re-entering bachelorhood and these involve the latter or being transformed into an animal of their choice for a ‘second chance’ at love.
It’s on this pretence that the film seems to open, with I presume a jilted ex or lover brutally shooting a defenceless donkey in a field after stopping the car in the middle of nowhere to do so. This stark, startling and somewhat alarming pre-credits opener is never referred to again throughout the rest of the film, but it acts as a perfect introduction to Yorgos Lanthimos’ utterly bizarre, satirical delve into the meaning of companionship and love.
The main setting for the first half of the film is then quickly introduced as David checks into the mundane hotel resort that newly single folk are forced to attend in which to save their current human existence. Shuttled off and segregated from coupledom, on the outskirts of a drab, rather plain looking city, it acts like a real life manifestation of online dating. Just about everyone speaks in deadpan, monotonous tones, which are perfectly summed up in the opening scenes when David answers a quick questionnaire that delves into his private life and, is at once artificially polite and also brutally abrupt, before meeting the no nonsense hotel manager (Olivia Colman) and finally joining the other guests (or should that be inmates?). We never do get fully acquainted with the other guests. They are never named, only David gets that pleasure, instead they’re a referred to from the narrating Rachel Weisz by their imperfections. There’s ‘Lisping man’ (John C Reilly), one with a limp (Ben Wishaw), ‘nosebleed woman’ (Jessica Barden), the maid (Ariana Labed), ‘biscuit woman’ (Ashley Jensen) and finally ‘heartless woman’ (Aggeliki Papoulia).
For me, the hotel part of the film was by far the most enjoyable, full of deadpan deliveries and dark comedic moments, I honestly was laughing out loud at some points. The brief fight in the grounds and the painfully awkward dancing during what I presume was a dance night were particularly funny to me. David despite appearing to fail badly at hunting the loners in the bordering wood, a little pastime the hotel guests partake in that can extend their stay, doesn’t appear quite as desperate to find love as some of his ‘friends’ and guests, who much like modern online dating, seem to abandon the notion of opposites attracting and attempt to find similar traits in their potential partners. ‘Limping man’ even goes as far as head butting furniture to bring on fake nosebleeds in an attempt to hook up with the permanently afflicted ‘Nosebleed lady’. There’s some sinister undertones bubbling away below the surface too, as Lanthimos lays the ground rules of his absurdist, dystopian nightmare. No more evident is this than when ‘Lisping man’ gets his hand thrust into a toaster for illegally masturbating and when Biscuit woman throws herself from a window in a botched, but ultimately successful suicide attempt after being shunned by David and despairing at her failure to find a suitable partner.
Employing the old if you can beat them, join them mantra. David comes to the conclusion that heartless woman is the match for him and decides to pretend that he has the same cold, emotionless persona as her. He strikes in the midst of the previously mentioned suicide, using the tragedy as a potential cupids arrow, whilst feigning disinterest as she chokes in the hot tub next to him afterwards. This causes her to proclaim them a match. Of course, this ends in disaster as you’d expect, when his new found match brutally murders his beloved dog (also his transformed brother as it turns out) in the middle of the night whilst he slept. This inexplicable act of violence causes the devastated David’s mask to slip, immediately ending their faux relationship and necessitating an escape from his psychotic now ex-match, that’s successful thanks to the handy assistance of the maid. Weisz’s monotone narration informs us that he transformed her into an animal and a fleeting glimpse at the entrance of the room is this closest we get to witnessing these take place.
This sends us nicely into the second half of the film in which David enters the woods to join forces with the fiercely anti-relationship, group of loners. Lanthimos essentially introduces an entire new cast of characters at this stage. The primary of which is the unsmiling, disciplinarian, ‘Loner leader’ played by the impressive Léa Seydoux. Within this new environment David encounters yet another draconian set of rules, this time forbidding any romantic relations between people. It quickly becomes apparent that things aren’t going to be much better on this side of the divide for poor old David as the rebels, for want of a better word, employ regular guerrilla like tactics against the pro-monogamy establishment whilst handing out equally disturbing punishments for the most petty of ‘crimes’. David does find some positivity in his new surroundings however when he meets his potential soul mate in Rachel Weisz’s character, who after narrating for over an hour, finally makes an appearance and in doing so adds the first genuine love interest, amongst rampant tomfoolery, to the proceedings.
Sadly for me, the film became a far less entertaining spectacle upon entering the woods with the satire evident in the hotel setting that preceded it not quite reaching the same level. It also lacked the awkward speed dating come ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ vibe that the first half had in an abundance and I felt also dragged ever so slightly towards the end. It wasn’t all dour though. There was some hilarious glimpses at newly transformed animals strutting around in the background and the dynamic between Farrell, the one constant throughout the two distinct acts, Weisz and Seydoux helped anchor it somewhat as it threatened to drift aimlessly.
Briefly touching upon some standout performances in what was a pretty decent ensemble cast overall. The best performance came from Farrell for me, he was almost unrecognisable with the moustache, glasses and portly belly. His character was obviously the main protagonist and I thought he was fantastic. His facial expressions painted a picture at times. I loved Léa Seydoux, one of the few bright patches in the second half of the film along with Weisz who added some warmth, emotion and genuine humanity to what was for large stretches, and deliberately so it has to be said, a pretty impassive experience. A special mention to Ashley Jensen who was at times both hilarious during her frank and open discussions with David and yet also heartbreakingly lonely, meeting a rather sad and gruesome end.
Lanthimos has delivered a pretty surreal experience here, certainly one which seems to perfectly balance humour and intermittent moments of inexplicably brutal violence together. There’s also a very clear allegorical statement being made on how we view attachment and relationships. Not to mention a pretty scathing indictment on the soulless, modern, online dating experience that has resorted to more and more superficial means in which to match people. From the ridiculously complex algorithms that certain sites use to form the perfect match based off shared hobbies and/or interests to the incredibly shallow nature of apps like Tinder. It all points to a society, that whilst obviously less heartless and brutal, is not too distant from that portrayed in the Lobster. Musically and visually, the film married perfectly together with the story. It was filmed in the overcast, perpetually grey Irish coast and this added to the grim, hopelessness of the situation, whilst the music really couldn’t have been a better fit.
Do I recommend it? Hmm… it’s a difficult one and certainly not for everyone. I could see some not enjoying it, but for the first hour alone, then I’d say yes.