There’s no real way to prepare yourself for Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest oddball odyssey ‘The Lobster’, with the possible exception of a familiarity with the director’s previous works ‘Dogtooth‘ and ‘Alps’. The filmmaker walks a peculiar line between absurdist humor and bleak social commentary that’s entirely his own. Even though his latest feature is his first in the English language and boasts a cast with international stars, it’s still a deeply bizarre effort that could only emerge from his twisted imagination.
Colin Farrell stars as a recently single man named David. Along with all the other single people in his dystopian couples-obsessed society, he’s shipped off to a countryside hotel hosted by Olivia Coleman (of ‘Peep Show’ fame). There, singles are given 45 days to find a new partner. If they don’t, they’ll be turned into an animal and released into the wild. (David wants to become a lobster, hence the title.) Everyone seems particularly stilted and awkward, so David’s first stab at connection is with a pair of equally lost souls played by a lisping John C. Reilly and limping Ben Whishaw.
Eventually, things go as wrong as expected and the film transitions into a very different second half. This time, the surrealist satire is focused on the pathology of the perpetually single, with a hidden loner society led by Léa Seydoux (‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’). They live in the woods and can masturbate freely or listen to electronic music, but are constantly in hiding and face severe punishment if they dare to seek out a love connection. That proves troubling for David, who meets a similarly near-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) and suddenly doesn’t feel so alone. (All connections in this world are formed over similarly silly shared traits, not unlike real stupid love.)
The film is a delightfully twisted take on relationships and human connection for those with a sick sense of humor. The cast all play their roles with a heightened level of social discomfort filled with cringe comedy bliss. Lanthimos’ directorial voice is defined by detachment to an extent, so he holds back and lets the cast of international stars and Brit-com veterans revel in social discomfort. The performances are uniformly excellent, striking an odd balance between awkward realism and nightmarish exaggeration.
Lanthimos’ darkest moments are frequently his funniest, and the filmmaker’s unique sense of the absurd finds a balance between discomfort, shocks and chuckles. It takes a certain twisted sense of humour and cynical worldview to appreciate what he’s up to, but the rewards run deep.
If there’s a failing to ‘The Lobster’, it’s in the movie’s somewhat awkward structure. It feels like watching both a movie and its slightly inferior sequel. The film never quite manages to equal the giddy heights of the first half in the hotel, yet the second half has its own charms. Despite all the alienating absurdism that defines the movie and Lanthimos’ unerring commitment to his wacko vision, the film becomes oddly touching when it focuses on Farrell and Weisz’s secret connection. Sure, it’s still a satire on the very idea of love and coupling, but one that finds some genuine warmth amidst the insanity. ‘The Lobster’ is probably even a great date movie for two cynical, arty oddballs to connect over.