The Lobster | Yorgos Lanthimos | May 13, 2016
It all begins when a lady drives her car out into a rainy field, gets out and points a gun at a stray donkey.
What follows in director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first full-length English-speaking feature, The Lobster, is an onslaught of black comedy which calls into question why we bother dating. Lanthimos most notably directed Dogtooth (2009), which received wide critical acclaim, yet it’s safe to say, The Lobster is his masterpiece thus far, this early on in his career.
The premise is simple. Broken-hearted single people who’ve lost loved ones to divorce or sudden death check into an anonymous hotel, and then have 45 days to find a new match. If they fail to do so, they will be transformed into an animal of their choice. Even though each character knows this, they each act utterly disenchanted at the luxurious ballroom parties and mandatory seminars, which all paint one dreadful, dystopian place to stay.
Early on at The Hotel we meet David (Collin Ferrell), a doubtful man in every way, accompanied by Beethoven’s ominous Op. 18 Adagio e affetuoso ed appassionata. After reluctantly checking in as a heterosexual guest, the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) welcomes David in his room, with staff on hand, and prods, “…if you do not find a match within 45 days, what kind of an animal do you want to be turned into?” Only after a brief pause David answers, “A lobster…they live to be 100 years old, and they stay fertile their entire lives…” And just like that, we know David’s stakes. Find a match or turn into a lobster. Colman’s deadpan performance is wickedly sharp, too.
While the film focuses centrally on David’s experience, there is a narrator who carries the plot forward. She tells the viewer what’s going on during of the films’ scenes in a camp, brutally honest way. Her humor becomes progressively funny as the plot thickens.
Meanwhile, David makes two friends at the first breakfast he attends. They are the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and the Limping Man (Ben Wishaw). These oddball characters become best buds. They even gossip about various women of interest at the Hotel.
Among many odd scenes at the hotel the staff plays standout hilariously. Essentially, the staff perform a series of two-part scenes to persuade the single people to find matches. In part-one of one scene entitled “Man Eats Alone,” an old staff member eats alone and chokes to death. Part-two is appropriately called “Man Eats With Woman.” During the scene, he chokes again but the hotel maid (Arianne Labed) saves him with a quick Heimlich maneuver. After awkward silence… all the single people in banquet room applaud. There are a number of other absurd staff plays like this one.
The fun doesn’t end there. Every morning the hotel staff drives the ladies and gents off into the woods to go hunting. In what might be one of the funniest sequences of the film, David, the Lisping Man, and the others run dramatically into the woods – to a melancholic flamenco tune. They trip and fall awkwardly, before beating up a few straggling loners.
What does this all mean? It’s never entirely clear why the hotel guests hunt the loners, however, we can take a gander that this symbolizes the stigmatism society bestows upon single people. Poor loners. They never stand a chance during these hunts. After the single people shoot them with tranquilizers, they are rounded up at the hotel to eventually be turned into animals.
David Finds “Love”
When David’s days dwindle down to 7 left before his lobster transformation, he finds his match, the Heartless woman (Angeliki Papoulia). Later that same evening, the hotel manager announces that these two are a perfect match for each other and wishes them luck. While everything seems rosy, things turn fast. David finds the woman he fell in love with wasn’t right from him. AS David said during an internal monologue with himself, “It’s harder to pretend you have feelings for someone when you don’t than to hide your feelings when you do have them…” After a series of chaotic sequences in the hotel, David runs away to the Loner society – to be alone.
The Loner Society
Out in the woods, David meets the Loner Leader (Leá Seydoux), whose diabolical performance is excellent. He is sworn to abide by their rules but that doesn’t last. Nevertheless, the unbreakable rules in the loner society are absurd and worth consideration. You are not allowed to flirt. You can masturbate all you want but you are especially not allowed to have sexual intercourse with anybody. As this scenario is all highly unrealistic, it seems to add gravitas to the sci-fi, dystopian world that Lanthimos envisioned.
What’s more, the loners compensate for their deprivation of passion by having silent disco dance parties in the woods. They’re funky and as weird as they sound. Rules aside, David falls for the shortsighted woman (Rachel Weisz). They are both shortsighted and this matching quality is what brings them closer together. They begin to do one another favors as well. They even gradually break more and more rules at the camp until they plan to run away and live together in Portofino, Italy.
Before I digress about the plot any further, I will stop there, for there are so many excellent heart-aching and gut-wrenchingly funny moments that follow. Along with so many laugh out loud moments, this film is filled with heartache, it forces you to feel sympathy for the woes of each character, to feel their internal struggles and to look at our own relationships in an honest way.
The Lobster’s screenplay (co-written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou) is incredible and the world building is flawless. Plus, the acting is aces across the board. Rachel Weisz’s performance is heartfelt, and Collin Ferrell shows a new range for humor with a very believable and awkward character. To boot, the supporting cast all play their parts very well. Not one of the characters ever seem unnecessary and the deliberate rhythm of the film hardly bores. If anything, it just adds more comedy. The final twenty minutes of the movie did slow down quite a bit, but it leads into what might be the best ending you could ask for. If you are a fan of romantic, black comedies I urge you to see this movie.
There are so many complex layers to The Lobster, yet a few themes stand out. The story seems to be a commentary on the ridiculous pressures society has imposed upon people to find love, and it depicts the trials and tribulations of finding true love itself, which is portrayed as fleeting at best.
As the story twists and turns Lanthimos gracefully directs our attention to examine the difference between superficial infatuations and true love. What we are left with is a question. How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice to hold onto the feelings you had for someone when you first fell in love with them?