Yorgos Lanthimos has only made a handful of films, 2009’s Oscar-nominated Dogtooth being one of them, but already his name is being bandied about in film geek circles with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and surrealist icon Luis Buñuel. I’m usually skeptical of such comparisons so early on in a filmmaker’s career, but having watched Lanthimos’ darkly funny, absurdist love story The Lobster, I can’t help but think that the comparisons are apt. Not only is the Greek writer-director one of the most original filmmakers in a generation, but The Lobster might just be his boldest and weirdest film to date. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Starring a virtually unrecognizable Colin Farrell (In Bruges) as David, a recently divorced man living in a dystopian near future where being single is forbidden, The Lobster opens with David being sent to a remote hotel in the woods where he and the other single guests have forty-five day to find true love or they are turned into an animal (of their choosing) by the hotel staff. Forced to mingle with other guests and study the virtues of couple-hood through a series of strange, and often hilarious, training sessions in the hotel’s main ballroom, the guests are also expected to hunt down escaped singletons in the forest nearby with stun guns on an almost daily basis. The guests who bag the most “loners” in the woods are given credits for extra days lodging at the hotel while those who fail to capture escapees, and/or to find true love, grow increasingly more desperate as the clock ticks down on their remaining days as a human.
And if that makes your brain hurt just thinking about it, wait until you see some of the crazy stuff that goes down when David meets up with Rachel Weisz’s (The Constant Gardener, Youth) character in the second act.
Some critics have slammed Lanthimos and his co-writer, and frequent collaborator, Efthymis Filippou, for making a film that is weird for weird’s sake, but what I found to be most unsettling about The Lobster is not how weird it is, but how prescient and relevant it is for what’s happening in our world today. By imagining a society where humans have abandoned logic, reason and intuition in favor of a blind, dogmatic obedience to a rigid system of rules about how we should act, who we should love, and why we should love them, The Lobster shines a bright, if slightly bent, light on just how arbitrary and casually horrific so many of our notions about love and compatibility really are.
The characters in The Lobster don’t obey the rules of so-called polite society because they are right or because they make sense, but rather because those rules have been in place for so long that no one can remember how to act without them. Even the tribe of rebel “loners” David encounters later in the film, when tested, prove to be just as didactic and governed by groupthink as the staff at the hotel. And while the film is set in an imagined near future, The Lobster’s allegorical parallels to our present day rules about dating, courtship, family life and the deeply human need to fit in and belong (often at any cost) make even the most surreal and far-fetched sequences of the film chillingly relevant to today. Particularly the notion that anyone who doesn’t conform to societal norms by pairing up is no better than an animal. Literally!
A joke early on about residents of the hotel having to chose between being registered as gay or straight, with no wiggle room for bisexuals or other, puts Lanthimos and Filippou’s position in stark relief. This might not be the world we live in, but in many ways, it’s the world we could become in an age where hatred, divisiveness and fear-mongering dominate the nightly news cycle.
Daring, darkly funny and hauntingly romantic in spots, The Lobster is definitely not for all tastes, but fans of truly out-there indie fare should feel right at home.
Now playing on select United, EVA Air, Lufthansa, and Finnair flights worldwide, The Lobster is also available via streaming at Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes.