“Have you ever been on your own before?”
It’s a bit hilarious to imagine what it’d have been like to be a fly on the wall during The Lobster’s big pitch to financiers. “Well, it takes place in a dystopian society. Singles gather together in a grand hotel – a Chateau Marmont for everyday folks, if you will – and they have 45 days to find a life partner. If they’re unsuccessful, they’re turned into the animal of their choosing.” I assume this log-line earned some furrowed brows and chin scratching puzzlement, wondering how in the world such a story could ever be sculpted into a marketable film. Yet by the deft and gleeful hands of visionary filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, dragging his nails along a chalkboard of unpredictability, The Lobster is the best and most topical picture about the rigors of modern relationships since 2013’s Her. To love is an arduous task; so is making sense of this movie. In both cases, the scrutiny proves worthwhile.
With dog in tow, David (Colin Farrell) checks into the hotel once more after being left by his wife of 11 years for another man. The dog’s actually his brother, ever the true companion. And the emasculated David’s uncomfortably awkward and shy demeanor makes this sad shadow of a human a clumsily clothed, slightly pudgy, conversationally impotent suitor speed-dating his way into oblivion. He’s like the lone wolf at the school dance who stands back against the wall, gawking at the women and searching for losers like himself with whom he can commiserate. He finds John (Ben Whishaw), a man with a limp, and the lisper Robert (John C. Reilly). They’re more acquaintances than they ever are friends, settling for reflections of themselves instead of searching for a mate who’s unbeknownst to them. For this trio, the comfort of being single and alone could come at the ultimate cost of abandoning personhood altogether. Their motives to be romantically involved are as true as a store-bought Valentine’s day card. That’s what makes The Lobster so damn brilliant; it embraces and latches onto the selfishness of companionship like a leech in a lake of muck.
Opposites do not attract in this world. Instead, trial marriages are arranged based on distinguishing traits. John meets a woman with only a temporary limp. Not a match. Robert’s harsh lisp is met with silence. After hunting out “loners” in the woods, with which each gunned down victim affords the shooter an extra day, David tricks a sour woman into being his sweetheart. Their romance is a ruse, an incompetent and forced attempt on his part to prematurely find love in a hopeless place. David’s unsuccessful in his deceit and outed to the hotel manager before managing to escape to the wood. John meanwhile successfully takes the hand of a young woman prone to nosebleeds by bashing his nose to a bloodied mess behind her back. In both circumstances, The Lobster concerns itself with a red-rover playground innocence, so effusive in its casual flirtation while being a stonewall, confronting the pitfalls of two interlocked hands and the plight of the lonely trying to separate them. You’re unlikely to find a more darkly funny or satirical tragicomedy nowadays.
In the wild, David falls under the rule of the Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux). Relationships aren’t allowed there. Graves must be dug by and for each respective outsider. Whereas the hotel manager chaperoned a masquerading false love, this calloused woman, spurred by a hate for love, condemns sexual relationships altogether. Unfortunately for David, he catches the eyes of a woman (Rachel Weisz). She’s short-sighted like he is, and never does she have an actual name, which of course is in accordance with the film’s alienating nature. This is the insanely love-drunk side of the script behind The Lobster; in this dystopia, you can trick yourself into believing, quite desperately, that your soulmate is another person prone to gaffes on an eye exam. That’s a big chunk of this story as David tries to woo a woman by offering her a witch’s brew of devotion, jealousy, sincerity, and the occasional lie. She consumes it like a coquette downing a midnight shot at the end of the bar, looking our way, a tight-lipped smile and glazed eyes combating true feeling. We cheers and chug in a self-defeating unison.
The Lobster has the audacity to ask its audience members not for an answer to the classic “chicken or the egg” question, but offers up a query for us to choose which we would rather be. That’s nonsensical and engaging with its farcical existentialism, so intentionally tone-deaf in its conversation while confident in just how we viewers will likely consume/interpret it. With the timid work from Farrell, the vulnerable turn from Weisz, and the overall running gag at its epicenter, The Lobster deserves its billing as a wildly bizarre and fiendishly funny fetish film that’s always up to snuff. Yorgos Lanthimos honors the work of Luis Buñuel while also contemporizing the virtue of love, of passion, and the lingering seed of doubt that some of us feel destined to be alone. Great films imprint the first and last images into your skull. For good measure, The Lobster implants a spigot and drains you for two hours. The eruptive release is as cathartic as it is revealing.
“I don’t miss companionship at all.”
Rating: 5 out of 5