Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language feature film is a brutal and confronting dark comedy with a touch of surrealism. In a community that is fixated on couples, a man called David (Colin Farrell) checks into a hotel where he must either find a suitable partner in 45 days, or be turned into an animal of his choice. Longevity and lifelong fertility lead him to his choice of animal, that is – you guessed it – the lobster (hey, that’s totally the title of the film!).
Disguising itself as a comedy, the film challenges this premise in the most confronting way; the pre-credits scene depicts an unidentified woman (Jacqueline Abrahams) stopping abruptly in the countryside, only to walk over to a donkey and shoot it before nonchalantly continuing on with her day. The act is never referred to again in the following two hours, however the act seems to explain itself through the film’s roiling emotional stakes. I’m still not sure if any animals were harmed in the making of this film, but dear God, I really hope they weren’t.
The world that the film is set in is the epitome of ‘beige’; you’ve got your classic shopping malls, kind of seedy hotels, and marriage and procreation is the purpose of life. Yet, the institution is also incredibly twisted, by which people who fail to pair up and remain single are literally hunted down like animals by the remaining prisoners of the Hotel. Still with me? Good.
If this all seems ridiculous, you bet that the Hotel nonetheless have strict standards of what constitutes an ideal match. Whilst no one questions the fact that humans can be turned into peacocks, he Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) highlights that a wolf and a penguin cannot live together “because that would be absurd”.
Whilst in the hotel, David – accompanied by his former brother, now transformed into a dog – meets two other single men (John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw), and together they attempt to navigate the world of being single. Eventually, David finds a partner that is suitable, feigning to be as ‘heartless’ as her in order to reign successful. In not even the most shocking scene of the film, it is revealed that the woman has kicked David’s dog – his brother – to death, recounting the whines and squeals that the animal made as it died. Nothing is off limits, it seems, as the audience is ‘treated’ to a glimpse of the dead dog (did I mention that I really hope no animals were harmed in the making of this film?).
If you’re already overwhelmed by this onslaught of information, be prepared – this is only the first act. What ensures throughout the second half of this film is just as tantalising. When David escapes the compound to join the other escapees in the woods, their renegade leader (Lea Seydoux) informs him of a whole bunch of new rules to contend with the ones that he only just escaped – no kissing, no flirting, and no companionship. Of course, it’s here that David finds a worthwhile companion (Rachel Weisz), their mutual attraction leading to yet another escape plan – to assimilate in the city as a couple.
The real strength of this film lies in how it takes the reigns of absurdism, owning the title in a way that does not diminish its narrative. The humour of this film lies in its careful construction of obscenely long scenes, with dialogue that is just as drawn out. In one scene, David asks the concierge of the hotel if “there is a bisexual option available?”, and in the following few minutes, the audience watches David as he battles whether to register himself as heterosexual due to his 12 year long relationship with his wife, or as homosexual due to a ‘college encounter’. In any other context, the wealth of information that we receive would be cast as irrelevant and a distraction; but here, Lanthimos owns his signature style and creates a purposefully awkward and well-structured piece.
Lanthimos places our society under the microscope, highlighting the ridiculous expectations of companionship that the world seems to be fixated with. The Lobster transitions from a ridiculous world to one that resonates with the real one. It is really of little surprise that this film won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival; it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before, but really should have. It’s intelligent, hilarious, and completely and utterly perplexing.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Lobster will be screening next at The Adelaide Film Festival on Sunday 25 October, followed by a theatrical season at Palace Nova East End Cinema (Adelaide) commencing October 29. It will screen in select cinemas around the rest of the country from October 22.
Running Time:118 minutes