premise of Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest absurdist
film (or should we simply say “absurd”) The
Lobster is that those who are unmarried have
forty five days to choose a mate or are turned
into animals. This is something my mother
might have said but even she would have offered
the possibility of clemency. Co-written by
Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, the film
continues the same style as Dogtooth with wooden
characters that are tight-lipped, undeveloped
emotionally and uncertain about how to handle
their desire for companionship. Like those in
Charlie Kaufman’s animated satire Anomalisa,
everyone has the same robotic presence, perhaps
a commentary on the way people relate to each
other these days.
The film stars Colin Farrell as David, a
dumpy-looking middle aged man whose wife thought
better of their relationship and split. In the
world he finds himself in, hopefully sometime
far in the future or on another planet, it is
against the law to be single, though we don’t
learn whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor.
In any event, David is checked into a hotel with
other unfortunates who must choose to register
as either hetero or homosexual and must decide
on the kind of animal they would like to become
if they cannot find a match. It is a serviceable
place to spend one’s last days as a human, but
it is not the Grand Budapest.
Unlike most who choose to become a dog, David
wants to be a lobster because they live one
hundred years and remain fertile, though that’s
really not an asset when you are thrown into
boiling hot water, but I guess if you like
water, why not? The people are friendly sorts
but are not big on warmth or caring. The hotel
manager (Olivia Coleman) and her husband (Garry
Mountaine) are likable enough as is the maid
(Ariane Labed) but David hits it off mostly with
two hotel guests, “the limping man” (Ben
Whishaw) and “the lisping man” (John C. Reilly).
The drive is to find a match, someone who shares
the same physical characteristics with you, such
as a bloody nose or a hatred for other people
such as one known as “The Heartless Woman”
(Angeliki Papoulia). She’s a real sweetheart.
Naturally, you may have to work at being
heartless to gain her approval, though many
people already have considerable experience.
Aside from Las Vegas type galas with the manager
and her husband providing the entertainment, the
only approved playtime activity is to go hunting
in the nearby forest to subdue and capture those
poor souls designated as the “Loners.” These are
the dreaded single people, those without a
partner that they can spend their lives fighting
with. Neither the Loners nor the hotel hotties
are big on sex but talking to each other is
okay, at least if you don’t call for a political
revolution which seems to be in the air these
days. Since masturbation is frowned upon and is
rewarded by having your hands stuck in a
toaster, there is little else to do but talk.
To the ominous strains of an original score by
Johnnie Burn, David finally says enough is
enough with this rot and escapes into the woods
where he joins up with the Loners but finds out
that they have rules which are just as rigid.
Guided by their uptight leader (Lea Seydoux),
who is so cold that butter wouldn’t melt in her
mouth, they go to the opposite extreme,
prohibiting any attempt at a love relationship.
When David meets Rachel Weisz, however, the
first sign of something positive emerges but
their forbidden relationship takes the film into
even more difficult and disturbing territory,
not recommended for small children.
Lanthimos’ first English-language film evokes
strong reactions from viewers by simply holding
up a mirror and letting us see our reflection
or, perhaps even more disturbing, sense the
direction in which we are headed. It is not a
pretty sight and The Lobster is not a pleasant
experience unless you are a blind man looking in
a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there.
While “dystopian” films such as this can be
looked upon as a warning or cautionary tale, the
question must be asked whether, in relentlessly
envisioning the future as taking place in a
bleak and lifeless world, they might actually be
helping to create it.