Lyndon Wells takes a look at Yorgos Lanthimos’ fascinating – and at times infuriating – alternative drama The Lobster that comically satirises the human custom of dating. The result is a mixed bag…
The Lobster is a strangely glum, but darkly comic satire on the human custom of dating. The film is set in an undefined future where the recently single or unattached must book into a hotel where they have 45 days to find a romantic match or be turned into an animal of their choosing.
For his first English-language film, director and writer Yorgos Lanthimos has gathered an impressive ensemble cast. If you have seen any of his previous work, such as Dogtooth or Alps, the tone of this absurdist satire will not be a surprise. For many this will be their first experience of the celebrated new–wave director and what an experience it is.
Colin Farrell is the forlorn main character that checks into the hotel with his dog (his brother) after being ditched by his wife. The hotel manager, played by the superb Olivia Coleman, welcomes him with a discussion of what animal he should like to become if the process fails. An effectively emotionless Farrell has decided upon a lobster “because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much”.
This quote magically captures the tone and delivery of this film. Some may find the mechanical delivery jarring, but it provides all the best comic moments especially Rachel Weisz’s voiceover. These moments are darkly comic as the automaton speech is often set against potentially distressing scenes. Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly and Ashley Jensen are all hotel guests that deliver fine-tuned comic performances of desperation.
The film is often surreal with a number of shocking sequences based around the hotel rules, including having your hand rammed into an electric toaster for enjoying the forbidden indulgence of masturbation. Another one of the hotel rules is going on a hunt for fundamental singletons known as “loners” who live in the woods of the hotel grounds. Shooting one earns the guest another day at the hotel in their quest for a match. This creates a standout slow-motion comic sequence of a uncoordinated woodland chase set to an incongruous soundtrack.
Whilst in the hotel the film is hilariously creepy, but all momentum is lost as it abandons the hotel setting and the deadpan style becomes a lesser mannerism. The film joins the loners who are a parallel society that is just as weird and insistent on its non-coupledom rules. A whole new collection of characters are introduced including loner leader Lea Seydoux, Michael Smiley and narrator Rachel Weisz. Whilst Weisz is the only character given any development, the emotional investment asked of her character is a stretch.
The second half of the film becomes tiresomely glum and loses much of the comic elements. The satire appears custom built for cinephiles that enjoy a unique self-aware macabre tone. Unfortunately it falls short of appealing to a wider audience when the film drops its hotel setting and loses interest in the extraordinary animal transformation process.