Imagine a world where regardless of your sexual preference, being in a couple is mandatory. If you fail to comply, you’re sent to a holding facility with 45 days to find a new companion. When your time is up, if you haven’t found a companion; you’re turned into the animal of your choosing. Welcome to The Lobster, a divinely weird satire of romantic conformity from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s a recipe that’s as weird as it is tragic, as philosophically sabre sharp as it is hilarious; this is a film that deserves your time.
The production design choices reinforce the calculating design of Lanthimos’ idea. The grey hotel set against the cold sea, the rolling yellow vale that leaks into the stark woods provides the perfect, pristine battle ground for those competing for a companion or for their humanity. One imagines Lanthimos intends that the grounds, the dressings, the activities, to have a certain level of mundanity that massage the outlandish premise. Lanthimos contrasts the processes for conformity and re-integration back into society with those who have escaped and become loners. In this world, their rebellion against conformity is to reject all things about coupling, non compliance is punished with brutal deformity.
The players, a surprise packet of incredible character actors featuring Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, Ashley Jensen, Olivia Colman, do a great job of navigating the inherently ridiculous dialogue and behaviour with a cripplingly funny genuineness.
The writing for the characters is wondrous. The facilitators of this hotel perform a series of relationship tutorials that feel like live performances of 1950s infomercials. The crowd must absorb the lessons, must never even whimper that they’re not invested in their success. Masturbation will even result in you having your hand stuffed in a toaster.
The characters therefore regress to childish notions of love, friendship and stories where unfiltered thoughts roam. Farrell goes against that simmering firecracker instinct that defines his best performances; the alternative is a scientifically measured and well crafted performance. Rachel Weisz is omnipresent in The Lobster. Opening the film through her grating, or oddly literal narration of David’s (Farrell) experiences that when you meet her, you both feel like you have no idea who she is, but that there’s a predestination in their collision. Ben Whishaw outlines stumbling into a wolf enclosure in a Zoo because his mother was turned into a wolf. He guessed aloud that one of the wolves that didn’t maul him was his mother. Ashley Jensen’s widower is desperately unfiltered, offering herself as a sex object in order to gain any partner. Jensen does a brilliant job of casually conveying hopelessness, wrapped in eagerness to please. John C. Reilly conveys suspicion that this entire exercise is outside of is control; like the inquisitive distrust that a child has when they start to unravel that Santa is not real.
The Lobster is so fascinating because it strips away the nuance in the pursuit for a partner.The mandate of requiring to be in a couple by a certain age (here one assumes by the end of high school) means that having a complex game plan to win over a partner a la Neil Strauss or George Constanza is wholly unnecessary. Instead it’s like watching school yard interactions between boys and girls; where the most minor common ground or shared interest becomes the gateway to “will you be my girlfriend.” The characters aren’t simple-minded though, because they’re required to play a calculating game of emotional chess, manipulating your opponents to be able to navigate your purpose. For Colin Farrell’s David, he begins in a state of melancholy, with his brother – who incidentally has been turned into a dog – by his side. He’s being constantly reminded of the consequences of not fulfilling his obligation to this society so consciously obsessed with coupling. Once he begins to see the anguish and duplicity that the people around him begin to display to find a companion, he actively changes to get what he wants. He targets a companion, infamous for her prowess hunting “loners” in the woods. Lanthimos uses a wonderful slow motion sequence on their first pursuit to highlight her pleasure, beating her prey before she seals their fate. To win her over, he passively allows her to feign choking to death on an olive, and complaining about the noise of another resident’s failed suicide.
The Lobster most importantly is just so darkly hilarious. Faced with the devastating reality of being turned into an animal; you can’t help but crack up when you see a person’s animal choice be solely because they’re happy with the continuity of great hair. Rachel Weisz’ intentionally unpoetic narration adds another absurd layer to this beautifully brutal daft vision of the world. The characters casually and cordially treating each other horrendously will tickle those with the same sadistic humour as this reviewer.
The Lobster, at its worst will alienate you with absurdity; at its best, you’ll be transformed by the depth of its perception and be disturbed at the preposterousness of the human condition.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman