The Lobster (2016)
The Lobster (2016)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: May 13th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Actors: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Michael Smiley, Angeliki Papoulia, Emma O’Shea, Ariane Labed, Ashley Jensen, Jessica Barden

 


 

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t begins with a woman driving along a countryside road, then pulling over and shooting a donkey in the head. The reason for this action is completely unknown (until later in the film, though the specific players in this event remain unchronicled). However, it’s instantly artistic: the camera peers through the windshield to observe the attack, with the imagery becoming obscured as rain falls on the window – and the wiper blades jolt intermittently to clear the view.

This inexplicable strangeness segues to a man, David (Colin Farrell), as he checks into a hotel, wherein he has up to 45 days to find a female companion. If he fails, he will be turned into an animal of his choosing. He opts to become a lobster, as they live 100 years and stay fertile all their lives – and he likes the sea. During that first day, he has one of his arms handcuffed to the back of his belt, which serves as a symbolic reminder for how much better life can be with two of something. The second day finds David meeting up with John (Ben Whishaw) and Robert (John C. Reilly), two fellow single men just figuring out how everything works at the hotel, while offering a bit of advice and camaraderie. As some members find a suitable partner and move to a larger suite for a trial-run of married life (if problems occur, a child might be given to new couples to smooth out issues), others are sent to the Transformation Room to become an animal (which tends to serve as a second chance at finding a mate). Still others plan to kill themselves in desperation.

Almost immediately, a monotonic female narrator chimes in to coarsely mention little details about David, such as his choice of shoes, his intentions, his actual thoughts, and even notes on things he will learn in the future. The need for this omniscient voice is entirely questionable, though it’s a source of great quirkiness, especially when she comments on minute items, such as a woman who likes butter biscuits – or on significant yet disturbing things, such as the use of a tranquilizer gun that hangs over David’s bed. She also repeats lines just spoken by characters – or partially interrupts them to narrate the very dialogue they’re currently speaking. The incredibly odd remarks are hysterical in their weirdness, resembling the eerily poetic works of animator Don Hertzfeldt.

“That would be absurd.” The dialogue isn’t the only element that is outrageous – or outrageously understated. The imagery is frequently complementary, with pleasant piano melodies and lullaby-like singing drifting over the top of a violent hunt in the woods (along with nervous – and then morose – violins); a lisping man and a woman whose noses bleed constantly; torture by toaster; slow-motion in action-oriented moments; and casual brutishness toward children. It’s alternately repellent, sad, morbid, humorous, and uncommonly unsettling (or all of these simultaneously), as if the picture were an exercise in combining the most disharmonious of thematic materials.

And, in many ways, it is. “The Lobster” hopes to expose a great irony in finding and acknowledging love, pretending to be in love, the consequences of ill-suited romances, the various constituents of incompatibility, mixed signals, the deception of emotions, and the pressures of societal standards to be in a relationship (or the judgments expressed by those who would measure success by romantic partnership). Additionally, it portrays the unpredictable nature of love-at-first-sight, or the concept of discovering love when least expected, and the sacrifices undertaken for true love. But all of these ideas are given a twist of lunacy and acute impassiveness, to the point that many are nearly unrecognizable. It is, understandably, conflicted and confusing and harrowing and tragic and, finally, triumphant.

In its parallels to the dystopian future of “1984,” “The Lobster” exhibits a thought-police equivalency with its marriage-police, who survey public places for anyone appearing suspiciously single. It also portrays George Orwell’s themes of concealing true feelings, skewed into the manipulation of the pairing process by faking idiosyncrasies so that compatibility might resemble destiny. And a revolution brews, here between the loners fleeing into the forest and the falsely happy couples in the cities and yachts, with everyday amenities allocated specifically for them.

As often experienced in such Orwellian nightmares, even with the singularity of this wildly original production, there’s an unshakeable apprehension and cruelty surrounding all of the parabolic happenings, as if satirical messages must be imparted in the most uncomfortable manner possible. In the end, the humor and the visuals remain strong, but the narrative turns cryptic, which might disconcert even those audiences looking for a bitter, deadpan experiment in metaphorical erraticism (or modern love). It makes a thought-provoking point, but the story suffers for it.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10