The phrase “unlike anything you have ever seen” is far way too often in film criticism today, including in articles by yours truly, but I can think of no title more deserving of such categorization than Yorgos Lanthimos’ offbeat dark comedy, The Lobster.
Set in a dystopian near future, The Lobster offers a unique solution to global population control. According to the laws of a place called The City, upon reach a certain age single adults are hunted, arrested, and forced to live in a hotel where they have 45 days to find a mate. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into The Woods. David (Colin Farrell in a career best performance) has just arrived at the hotel when the moving begins, and during an initial encounter with those who run the facility he explains that his desired animal is a lobster because they live in the water and have very long lives. His brother, now a dog, is seated at his side.
As David begins to explore the hotel he encounters others who are in search of a way to stay human, including two men he quickly befriends (played by John C. Reilly and Spectre‘s Ben Wishaw). Their experiences at the hotel vary greatly, but they all three are searching for the same thing. When David realizes he may not find someone, he plots an escape and seeks shelter in the woods. There, while being hunted by his the same people who were once his neighbors, he discovers a group of rebel single people who have outlawed love and joins their makeshift community. It’s not a permanent solution by any stretch of the imagination, but it does allow for David to ponder the reality of his situation and what, if any, action he may be able to take. It also allows for him to meet a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) with whom he falls in love.
Yorgos Lanthimos wrote The Lobster with Efthymis Filippou, and their collaborative imagination has produced a substantial comedy that does not shy away from moments of heartstring-tugging bleakness. The script ruminates on themes of love, depression, longing, and existentialism while toeing a line between awkward tragedy and comedic romance that few features have dared to attempt. While the premise is somewhat grandiose, its execution could not be simpler. The hotel is like any historic 4-star hotel you’d find in most major cities, and the fashion is practically dated by today’s standards. Muted colors are everywhere, reinforcing a heavily promoted message from hotel leadership that true romance based on acceptance of one another’s individuality is not as important as basic compatibility, and the separation between those with a mate and those without is expressed as easily as placing a velvet rope between tables in the dining area. We may be witnessing a dystopian future, but beyond the unique laws and way of life you wouldn’t know it by everything seen on screen.
Comedic and dramatic elements of the story aside, it’s the bigger questions raised by The Lobster that will leave the film lingering in the mind of viewers everywhere. Big, open-ended observations on everything from the purpose of coupling, to the role we play in society, the science of romance, the need for individuality, and what it is we seek in others — not to mention why we seek connection with others in the first place — are introduced throughout the film with only a few being directly addressed. It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that even one such idea can be posed to audiences, let alone several, and accepted while also making viewers laugh. It’s as if the film is attempting to entertain you both in the moment and long after your experience watching it has come to an end, and it succeeds on both fronts.