Being single is illegal. Those unfortunate enough to remain unspoken for are forced into unbecoming ponchos to hide out in perpetually drizzly U.K. forests, dodging trigger happy hunters locked, stocked and loaded with tranquiler guns, motivated to track them down and capture them. The remaining option for singletons comes in the form of a one-way ticket to a matchmaker hotel where they’ll endure 45 days of punishing “romance” seminars in hopes of finding a mate. Those who “don’t make it” are turned into an animal of their choosing. David’s (Colin Ferrell) desired animal is a lobster. And such is Yorgos Lanthimos’ demented lifecycle in his fifth feature film The Lobster.
A clawed crustacean with high retail value in the seafood market, the lobster boasts enviable qualities such as its resilient exoskeleton and an exceedingly long life span relative to its genus (they were once rumored to be immortal but typically live 30-50 years) . Another rumor frequently perpetuated about the lobster is that they mate for life – you can thank Friends for that – but this is naught but nautical scuttlebutt. In fact, the lobster is best thought of as a serial monogamist in that they flit from one love affair to the next, with rare romantic outings lasting more than a few weeks.
Biology lesson aside, the breakdown of the lobster’s mating habits reflects some context on Lanthimos’ open-ended but unremittingly bizarre dystopia. Is Lanthimos approaching the David-lobster allegory based on wide-spread belief or is he taunting us with the proliferation of a misconception? As a storyteller who seemingly gets off on remaining shadowy and vague, Lanthimos’ The Lobster becomes a thing of artful interpretation sure to infuriate parties who like their answers definitive and their arcs spun full circle.
Throughout The Lobster, Lanthimos flashes sparks of dark humor. An awkward assembly purported to inspire singles to pair up showcases two scenarios: “Dining Alone”, which results in a man choking to death on his dinner and “Walking Alone” which turns to a rather robotic and uncommitted rape. These mimed scenes go off without a hitch when done in a duo. The laughs he elicits are of an especially twisted and hilarious variety and yet he stirs dollops of sincere emotion in earnest as the film treads on. The result is this strange swirl of cold satire and tender sentiment.
Our best method of dissecting David as a character and a suitor is to examine the relationships he’s involved himself in. As all new arrivals, he comes to the hotel with naught but a dog (his brother, who “didn’t make it”) and is stripped of his personal belongings. He’s assigned uniform clothes and accessories and must select defining characteristics that he would like to see paralleled in an ideal match. We are privy to the confessions of a fellow newcomer (Ben Whishaw) who is desperately seeking a lover with a limp, possessing one himself. David must determine that he’s a heterosexual, after some deliberation its worth noting, and goes about the task of baiting the opposite sex.
Tales of lament from his new friends (Whishaw’s desperate limper and John C. Reilly sporting a lisp and a habitual masturbation problem) spur David into seducing the hotel’s big bad wolf, a stone-hearted huntress played by Lanthimos regular Angeliki Papoulia. In time, the bespectacled David finds a more suitable match in Rachel Weisz’ unsure loner, who also happens to be near-sighted. There’s a kinetic breadth between the polar opposite matchings that are David’s two suitors that speaks to the modern, tech-influenced culture of dating.
In an age that relegates romantic pairings to mathematical algorithms or purely superficial swipes, Lanthimos’ sexual internment camp mines satirical riches. Embarrassing silences and uncomfortable hysterics highlight a director who’s not moved beyond the incendiary tree-shaking of Dogtooth. Lanthimos proved a surprising appeal with arthouse constituents with that 2011 feature, earning his film a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s enabled the filmmaker to remain just as fiercely stubborn in future pursuits. His latest feature refuses to chart a familiar course, proving as equally perverse and unwilling to compromise as his former efforts.
There’s something to be said for the wild originality and sheer rejection of traditional storytelling values inlaid in The Lobster’s DNA but that unwillingness to conform also opens the film up to criticism. And while the first half of the film steams ahead on its disarmingly off-beat humor and kooky world-building, the later half, motivated though it is by a compelling and uncharacteristically soft romantic angle and Léa Seydoux’s nefarious anti-establishment despot, gets as sluggish as the moss-carpeted wood it resides within. But that hardly robs the fiercely one-of-a-kind construction that is The Lobster of its pot-boiling potency or sharp-tongued candor.
CONCLUSION: An imaginative and jet black adult dystopia, Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Lobster’ balances nervous character study in with a screwy bizarro world. Proudly unusual, the mechanics of a world where being single is illegal can prove more compelling than the narrative thrust of its characters at times but it all adds up to one delightfully odd, and predominantly satisfying, chapter of Grecian satire.