This first English language film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is like nothing else you will see this year. It is based on a premise so kooky and utterly surreal that many might find it a somewhat alienating experience, but there is much to like. The Lobster is a commentary on the expectations around love and relationships and, in particular, the way in which the singletons of the world are seen as somehow strange and, in this case, utterly unacceptable. With little information about when or where the story takes place (although it seems to be somewhere in Britain in the very near future) and with only one of the numerous characters identified by name, this is certainly not the type of film that joins all the dots for you. The reality is that you may never really get your head around this world and the people in it. Yes, this is a comedy, but there may be many – particularly those used to being spoon fed their laughs in multiplex fare – for whom the deadpan delivery and the earnestness of the characters might be hard to cop. However, those who embrace The Lobster will be rewarded with something that is utterly unique.
In this dystopian construct, the loveless are consigned to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a partner from amongst the other guests or they are turned into an animal of their choosing. The latest arrival is Dave (a paunchy Colin Farrell), a recently divorced middle-aged man with a dog in tow; a dog that also happens to be his brother, a constant reminder of the fate that awaits him. The matchmaking here has nothing to do with love or romance; it is about ‘compatibility’. You need to find somebody like you, rather than somebody who likes you, which is why Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) constantly smashes his face into hard surfaces in an effort to make himself a suitable match for Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden). If the relationship starts to sour, the hotel will even allocate a child to a couple because, apparently, a child ‘solves all the problems in a relationship’. Hotel guests are forced to undertake sessions that demonstrate the dangers of being single and are also expected to partake in a daily hunt for those who have escaped the hotel, with each ‘loner’ you capture prolonging your stay and your beastly conversion.
Upon the realisation that he is unlikely to find a compatible partner, Dave flees the hotel to join The Loners in the nearby woods, where any kind of emotional connection with another person is strictly forbidden. It is therefore ironic perhaps that it is in the woods where the story teeters towards romance. Lanthimos has assembled a stellar cast with Leah Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour) calculating and callous as the leader of The Loners. Rachel Weisz is also amongst this group who find themselves constantly under threat from the hotel guests desperate for a catch, including John C Reilly’s volatile and simple-minded Lisping Man. Meanwhile, Olivia Coleman is the efficient, aloof hotel manager who is utterly steadfast in her convictions about the merits of the program.
Whilst set in the future, there is no doubt that The Lobster is very much about the present. Lanthimos is scathing in his critique of the pressures within contemporary culture to find a spouse and follow a typical life trajectory, while at the same time being subjected to all manner of expectations and restrictions around who is, in fact, a suitable partner. Of course, he is also challenging the concept of marriage as a union based on love in a world where such couplings seem to emerge for reasons that seem far removed from emotional fulfilment. Furthermore, The Lobster, quite rightly I think, posits the notion that single people are being increasingly isolated and marginalised as if to suggest they are somehow broken. This is a cynical, satirical, intelligent, allegorical piece of cinema that ranks with the best films of the year. Much like Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, this is a work that defies convention, leaves many questions unanswered and caters to an audience desperate for something different.