There are a few key questions at the heart of The Lobster. How far would you go to find love? Do you really need to find love? What does it mean to make a connection with someone? These are fairly traditional topics in romance dramas and comedies (rest assured, The Lobster is both). But there’s one more question at the core of this movie that sets it on an irreversible path to weirdness: what if you only had 45 days to find love before you were permanently transformed into the animal of your choice?
That’s the question that David (Colin Farrell) faces directly in the quirky, dystopian near-future presented by writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. In this society, being single is simply not allowed, and anyone who’s suffered a breakup or been widowed is transferred to The Hotel. While there, they choose an animal they might be turned into and are given 45 days to find a match to prevent that from happening. They can gain extra days by successfully hunting (with tranquilizer guns) fellow residents who escape into the woods.
David finds himself in The Hotel (accompanied by his brother, now an Australian Shepherd) after his wife leaves him for another man. He chooses the life of a lobster as his possible future (largely because lobsters have long life spans) and begins a frustratingly lazy search for a mate. The Hotel is a twisted commune where residents watch strange theatrical performances extolling the values of a relationship and where people largely search for mates with similar “defining characteristics.” For instance, we see one man constantly bashing his nose into things so that he can match the chronic nosebleed of a young woman he intends to match with. Most of the characters, in fact, are known by a characteristic (The Limping Man, etc.) rather than a name.
As we get more used to the strange setting of The Hotel, we also come to understand that there’s a sort of opposite community existing in the nearby forest. There, the Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux) heads up a clan of escapees fending for themselves, with the only rule being that they can’t start relationships. It’s a little unclear why this is, other than that the Loner Leader is so disgusted with the greater society’s rules she seeks to rebel completely against them.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that David ends up among the woodland escapees, and inevitably he finds himself attracted to a Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), finding love only where he isn’t supposed to do so. You can begin to get a feel for the plot dilemmas and social commentary at hand. Will David force love (or can he?) at The Hotel to save himself from becoming a lobster? Will he defy the subtly menacing Loner Leader to pursue true love where it’s not allowed? And how far off, really, is the world of The Lobster from our own society in which so many people are pressured one way or another on the romantic spectrum?
Frankly, the social commentary is nonsense. Sure, there’s something to be said for this movie as a caricature of dating culture, but The Lobster is too bizarre to justify much search for deeper meaning. It’s also too unique to be taken lightly. But the joy here is in learning to appreciate Lanthimos’s tone and the performances of the actors as you watch. The whole thing moves with a slow pace; characters speak to one another in short, awkward, but brutally honest statements; and the humour (there is some, by the way) alternates between subtle and surprising.
It’s safe to say (and likely apparent) that The Lobster isn’t for everybody. It may well put some people to sleep, and it’s also possible to walk out of this movie feeling mildly disturbed. But if you’re a fan of Colin Farrell (who’s often at his best in his lesser-known projects), or if you’re simply tired of blockbuster cinema and looking for something weird, you might just love it.
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