Finding love is like finding an apartment: it’s expensive, time consuming, there are a million options and most of them are probably out of your range. Boiling love down to the bare essentials is something people focus on more often than not: have similar interests, be honest with each other, and enjoy each other’s company. But what about that x factor? The passion and inexplicable emotion that drives people to want to spend the rest of their lives together at any expense? How does one explain that? What if that goal became so difficult and complex that the world just threw its collective hands up and said, “Screw it, just give me a name and I’ll work with it?” A complex question indeed, one requiring a complex answer.
The Lobster is a manifestation of that answer. Set in the dystopian future (because even art films are dystopian future tales these days), the world has decided that all single people are better off contributing to society as animals so any person that is alone in his or her life is transferred to The Hotel. There, these outcasts of modern society are given 45 days to find a partner (not true love or a soul mate, just a partner) or they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David (Colin Farrell) is new to the single life after his wife leaves him for another man. He goes to The Hotel and chooses to become a lobster if he fails to find a companion. Though making friends with a kind-hearted lisping man (John C. Reilly) and a rather standoffish limping man (Ben Whishaw), he falls for a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) who is a member of a group of single drifters refusing to go to The Hotel. David tempts fate and persecution from society to pursue this mystery woman.
“Conventional” is not a word used in any way, shape, or form in The Lobster. Co-written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps), the film is drenched in irony, subtle jabs at modern society, and deadpan humor. It’s like if Wes Anderson went to Ireland during rain season and took a handful of downers every morning before filming. That’s not a knock against the movie, as there are a big number of funny moments in the movie, especially if you’re an introverted pessimist who looks down on the sunny fantasy of falling in love (like Lanthimos, and the writer of this review). Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou make David’s story one of misery that he causes. He’s an awkward man looking for a mate out of desperation, like the rest of the people at The Hotel. He and the other guests are examples of what single people are treated like in the constantly-connected world of the day: prisoners from their own life choices, segregated from the world without consideration and deemed lower than humanity if they don’t conform. The movie doesn’t let single people off the hook either, as they’re painted as their own off-beat, odd subculture of society. The movie’s point seems to be that the hardest thing in the world is to find that awkward middle ground between desperate for companionship and rebellion through solitude. It’s basically between constant cutesy couple photos on Instagram or posts about being “single and happy, dammit” on Facebook.
It would be a much sharper dig at modern society if the movie didn’t love itself so much. At 119 minutes, The Lobster is a near slog that feels like 3 hours. The movie strokes its own ego by long shots or extended looks at the dour universe it sets up. There are some dark and genuinely disturbing imagery in The Lobster that would’ve been much more effective if they were shown in brief cuts, like jabs to the audience, instead of holding on them or expanding on them, almost bludgeoning the audience. The movie doesn’t know how to set up its own ending, providing three scenes that could be great climaxes, only to go with a rather subdued (if not also dark) closing moment. The movie can’t quit while it’s ahead and when it finally does, the hit of the humor has worn off.
What’s impressive about the entire endeavor is that the cast is 100% game for it. Farrell has always used dark comedy as a sort-of hidden talent (see In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths for evidence), and he’s never been so restrained and humane in his career. This may be the most tender character he’s done in a while and Farrell pulls it off wonderfully. Weisz is equally effective as a messy mockery of the manic pixie dream girl. She’s quirky but barely considers the thought of being with David until a graphic turn of events. Reilly and Whishaw are actually two versions of the same character, the man desperate for companionship and will worry about love later. Reilly is the soft version of it, hoping his kindness will get him sympathy, and Whishaw is the sneaky predator lying to get ahead. The standing examples of the two extremes of this universe are Olivia Coleman as The Hotel’s manager and Lèa Seydoux as the leader of the single drifters. Both are daft in their own right, but Coleman’s uptight persona is a much funnier caricature.
The Lobster is not the easiest pill to swallow and it may love itself a bit too much. That being said, it’s a striking diversion from a love story. Maybe too extreme to make its message stick, it’s meant for star-crossed lovers in the self-obsessed culture of 2016. There may have been a better way to do a movie like this with a sharper, leaner script and lighter atmosphere would help make it more effective. For now, The Lobster stands as a funny, if not overstuffed, satire of what society sees as falling in love. If it weren’t for all the deadpan humor, this might as well have been a horror movie.
Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars