The Lobster is as likely to frustrate and distance viewers as it is to captivate and engage them. It’s a film built around a critique of modern preoccupations with relationships and closeness that deliberately distances audiences from the film’s characters with its stark, clinical approach. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you have a taste for the dystopian and the absurd in film or literature, it may be worth your while.
What’s it about?
The Lobster focuses on David (Colin Farrell), who wears glasses to correct his short-sightedness (an important detail), and his search for the love that will not only change his life, but literally save it. When his wife leaves him, he does what all suddenly single people do in his society: check into “The Hotel,” declare to the management his sexual preference, and begin the process of finding a suitable life match among The Hotel’s other rejected, dejected, or otherwise forlorn and overlooked guests.
There are many rules at The Hotel, but one rule above all dictates the tone of existence within its grounds: if guests do not find a suitable match within 45 days of checking in, they will be transformed into the animal of their choice. When asked upon his check-in what his choice of animal will be should he “not make it,” David answers “a lobster.”
In the days that follow, David watches as other guests, in particular two other men he befriends, one with a limp (Ben Whishaw), the other with a lisp (John C. Reilly) attempt to find or in some cases fake connection with others in order to avoid being transformed. They attend seminars and workshops focused on the advantages of being part of a couple, and awkward dinners and mixers meant to encourage courtship and familiarity.
However, at any time when a particular alarm sounds, all guests retreat to their rooms, arm themselves with tranquilizer rifles and darts, and go out into the nearby woods to hunt “loners,” people choosing to live alone in the wilderness and thus breaking the law. For every loner caught and brought back, guests get another day added to their stay, another day to put off transformation and continue their search for “love.”
Being neither very charming nor an accomplished hunter, David finds his allotted days running short. After one final, catastrophic attempt to avoid his fate, he runs from The Hotel into the woods and joins the loners, where he meets and is instantly drawn to a woman (Rachel Weisz) with whom he shares much in common, including short-sightedness.
The Loners and their leader (Léa Seydoux, SPECTRE, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), however, have their own rules about connection, making David and his new friend’s mutual attraction problematic. A future together seems within their grasp if they can just reach The City and get lost among all the other couples living there.
Of course, in this world, that’s an “if” that’s almost as improbable as finding true love at “The Hotel.”
Taking things to their logical conclusion
As absurd as the premise behind The Lobster might sound when written out in a synopsis like the one above, there’s real imagination and creativity in the premise and the world built around it. Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (Venice 70: Future Reloaded) takes into account Western society’s inherent social pressures and prejudices regarding people living alone past a certain age along with governmental laws and regulation affecting unmarried people and puts forth a somewhat logical conclusion, a direction in which we as a society may be heading.
Is it extreme? Of course it is — such is the nature of dystopian satire. But in that extremity lies insight. If The Lobster succeeds at anything, it’s putting forth a thoughtful, if depressing, critique of societal structures and mentalities regarding how single people are viewed by the “conventional” masses and, conversely, how those who choose to seek out and actually find fulfilling companionship are looked dimly upon by those who do not.
That said, the film does have some pacing issues, and a fair argument can be made that it belabors its point once that point has been made. The Lobster is certainly not cinema for those seeking immediate gratification, but perhaps even that is deliberate. After all, isn’t “love” in 21st Century Western society at times considered a “thing” that people are able to just go out and get without time or trouble? Match.com would certainly have you think so.
As an alternative to the summer movie season’s mindless bombast and crowd-pleasing fare, yes, The Lobster is certainly worth audiences’ attention. It’s a difficult film to wholly embrace, just because it can be so harsh and unflinching in its premise and execution.
However, given the chance, it’s a film that’s sure to leave you thinking. It features solid, if understated, performances from its A-list cast bringing to life a truly unique and unconventional film experience.
Just don’t expect anything uplifting or romantic in any way, shape, or form in that experience.
Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, and Olivia Colman. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rated R for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence.