“This is just to show how easy life is when there is two of something rather than one”, says the Hotel Manager in The Lobster, as one of the protagonist’s hands is restrained using a small lock. This is pretty much what this film is all about: a near-future society obsessed with couples, viewing them as the normality, as opposed to single people who are viewed as unproductive and undesirable. In that way, the film shows David (Colin Farrell), a newly single person who is transferred to the Hotel, a place where single people have just 45 days to find a suitable mate, and, if they fail – they would be transformed into animals of their choice.
While the film’s original premise may not be everyone’s “cup of tea”, The Lobster will prove a goldmine for people who are into a Kafkaesque, absurdist mentality, as well as black humour. There is everything here: (i) a social critique on a modern society who has this couple-marriage-big-family standard of happiness; (ii) utilitarian philosophy musings; (iii) the exploration of “us-vs.-them” segregation mentality, (iv) ideology wars; (v) the minority’s rebellion tactics, as well as (vi) psychological intricacies behind group behaviour and conformity pressures. Overall, the film is very thought-provoking.
The way all this is presented on screen is also admirable: the Hotel “arrangements” can easily evoke surprise, disbelief and even shock: from the single people’s uniforms to some unusual punishments inflicted on disobedient singles at the Hotel. The film becomes increasingly grotesque and disturbing, filled with odd characters such as the “Heartless Woman” and the “Limping Man”, and displaying even odder Hotel rituals, be it simulated high-school dancing nights or bizarre “single people vs. couples” demonstrations. The premise for pairing is also odd: apparently, to be suited to one another, the partners in the Hotel must find some similar traits they share, such as be both cruel, short-sighted or both suffer from nose-bleeds. What these shared traits have to do with falling in love is never explained. The noticeable feature here is that from the film’s very first scenes, this bizarre, dystopian setting is presented as a matter of fact, as something completely normal and natural to behold, reminding of Romanek’s Never Let Me Go (2010) or even one of Kafka’s own novels, such as The Trial.
The film’s dialogue is also frank and odd. It feels very scripted and unnatural at times, but probably this is intentional to emphasize the “matter-of-fact” atmosphere of this dystopian world. Although there is a helpful narrative in the background (voiced by Rachel Weisz), the film could probably do without it as the film’s sequences speak for itself, and The Lobster is fascinating to watch without additional sub-stories and narrations. Black humour here and there adds to the ingenuity of the picture. For example, at one point one person asks David something along the lines of “Have you dug your own grave yet? No one is going to do it for you, you know?” The sombre colour of the film and its soundtrack are among the things which make The Lobster so enjoyable to watch, and some of the film’s musical sequences have still shots (especially of the forest), also used in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) and Antichrist (2009).
The Lobster is an uncanny and bizarre cinematic experience, and, if this is Lanthimos’s starting point, he may prove to be one of the most original directors of the twenty-first century.
The Lobster directing is controlled and meticulous, probably thanks to the cleverly-crafted script written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou. This is the first English-language film of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who previously directed such equally bizarre films as Alps (2011) and Dogtooth (2009). Action-oriented Colin Farrell is not really known for deep and thought-provoking films, but he fits The Lobster surprisingly well, making a nice pairing with Rachel Weisz, who already has her share of unusual and psychologically-intense films under her belt, such as the trailer-spoiled Dream House (2011) and Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006). The duo is supported by equally “already well-known” support cast, such as Léa Seydoux (Spectre (2015)), John C. Reilly (Carnage (2011)) and Ben Whishaw (Skyfall (2012)), among others. The only concern here is that it seems grossly out-of-place to include whole chunks of dialogue in French in The Lobster simply on the basis that, apparently, Léa Seydoux is French and speaks the language fluently.
The only flaw of The Lobster could be the film’s last twenty-or-so minutes, as well as its ending. Unfortunately, in the last minutes we are confronted with a film that does not know what it is anymore, shifting from an enjoyable social allegory to focusing too much on the characters’ plights and worries, and even seemingly copying some of Jose Saramago novels’ ideas. However, the worst bit is the ending: a bit “lazy” and unimaginative. One thing is leaving the ending intentionally thought-provoking and open-to-interpretation, as in Inception (2010), but quite another thing providing a wholly unsatisfying ending that looks like a film has been just cut mid frame due to budget constraints or whatever with no explanation given, as in Enemy (2013). Quite unfortunately, The Lobster’s ending fits the latter description more than the former.
Overall, The Lobster is bizarre, but also masterfully-crafted and enjoyable.