Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Garry Mountaine
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 5/13/16 (limited); 5/20/16 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 20, 2016
There are only two ways of life in The Lobster. There's the way of forced marriage, and there's the way of living as a fugitive in a coerced state of singlehood. Technically, there's also a third way, although it's far less desirable than the other two options, so practically, it shouldn't really be taken into account as a legitimate way of life. It's definitely a possible—perhaps even an inevitable—fate, though, so we'll have to address it sooner or later. On the "sooner" front, the third way is for a person to live as an animal of one's choosing.
The conceit of the screenplay by director Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou is that the law of the land states that everyone must be married. Those who are not married after a certain age are brought to a posh hotel, where they have 45 days to find a suitable mate. If they don't, they're transformed into an animal and will live out the rest of their life as such.
It doesn't matter if a person is single because of a divorce or the death of a spouse, either. Our protagonist is a man who finds himself suddenly single when his wife announces that she loves another man. He gets a few minutes to process this information before he's hauled off the hotel. He decides that he will become a lobster if he isn't able to find a new mate. Most people choose a dog, and that's why there are so many of those.
There's probably some logic behind the way of this world, but the film doesn't care. It exists as a fable about the rituals and mysteries of love. It finds them to be a bunch of B.S.
This is a deeply cynical film—an anti-romance that presents two, extreme ways of living as a means of dissecting the concept of love, tossing its organs on the floor, and then stomping on the carcass. The central thesis is that love is a social construct. Additionally, the film argues that love is an idea so counterintuitive to human nature that it takes the fear of a fate worse than death to convince a person to participate in the charade.
Even when it seems to embrace love as something more, the film can't help itself. What seems to be a sweet but star-crossed romance eventually becomes just another part of the argument against such a thing.
The protagonist is David (Colin Farrell), the only human in the film to receive an actual name (The exception is David's trusty dog Bob, which was once his brother). When he's brought to the hotel after his wife announces that she's done with their relationship (The only question he has to ask is whether her new lover wears glasses or contact lenses—the first instance of an obsession with sight that becomes more important later), David encounters a string of nameless characters.
They're referred to in regards to their most noticeable trait. There's the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), whose wife died unexpectedly. There's the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), who learns the hotel's strange but painful punishment for masturbating (The rule is in place because sexual frustration is an incentive for people to get into a romantic relationship). Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden) catches the eye of a few men, and the Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) is looking for someone as cruel as her. There's also the sad, lonely Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), who likes cookies. She is interested in David, but he prides himself on coming up with excuses to avoid her advances.
Everyone in this world essentially has the same formal, monotone personality, so everyone at the hotel is looking for a partner who shares a similar, compatible characteristic. That's the strategy encouraged by the hotel's manager (Olivia Colman), whose partner (Garry Mountaine) sings with her at the hotel's awkward dances. Any potential couple that gets into an irreconcilable fight is assigned a child. That usually puts the relationship on an even keel.
The film is decidedly absurd in its setup and humor. There's a daily hunting trip to the nearby forest, during which the hotel guests try to shoot runaway single folks with tranquilizer darts so that the fugitives can be turned into animals. There are shows in the ballroom, during which the hotel staff members (dressed as waiters and maids) pantomime the dangers of being single (choking on one's dinner) and the benefits of having a partner (having someone around to perform the Heimlich maneuver).
Lanthimos and Filippou eventually get David away from the hotel, and the alternative way of life is equally absurd. The Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux) has implemented rules that are as strident as the hotel's. Nothing romantic is allowed. People dance on their own while listening to electronic music on headphones. Flirtation is punished with a "red kiss," which leaves the victim's lips bloodied and bandaged, and there are rumors of "red intercourse," although no one has had to endure that. In the background, random exotic animals roam the woods, hinting at a series of sad stories and failed lives.
While there, David meets the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), who also narrates David's story with intentional redundancies and gaps. The two develop an elaborate language of confounding gestures in order to hide their affections for each other.
The Lobster is wickedly funny in its complete embrace of artifice, and it finds a good deal of truth beneath its bizarre façade. The film's entryway may be a skeptical evisceration of love, but the alternative here is just as terrible. Both options result in the denial of person's self—his or her wants, needs, and fulfillment. Both require sacrifices (The film's final scene is a dread-inducing ellipsis of a decision), and in the end, neither one seems worth the price.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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