Hollywood must have a rooting interest in marriage. Why else would so many rom-coms revolve around weddings and meeting that perfect match? They must be getting kickbacks from the clergy. Or maybe they have a hand in the flower racket. Either way, Hollywood loves to look at marriage as a one-size-fits-all problem solver.
Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos takes that conceit to its inevitable conclusion in his first English-language film, The Lobster. Set in the near future, the inhabitants of The City must be paired off, and singles are strictly forbidden. When David’s wife takes another man, David is sent to The Hotel where he has 45 days to find another perfect match. If he does, he will undergo a series of rigorous tests before he and his new bride can return to The City. If David does not find a match, he will be transformed into an animal and released into The Woods with the hope that he will have better luck finding companionship on all fours.
According to the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman), most people at The Hotel want to be turned into a dog, but that is an unimaginative pick. David (Colin Farrell) wants to be a lobster—because lobsters live a long life and stay fertile until they die. The Manager commends David on his creative pick, a small consolation considering the fate that awaits him.
There are ways to stay the transformation and buy more time at The Hotel, but they are not pleasant. Nor are the dating rituals enforced on the residents by management or the punishments inflicted on those who break the rules.
The Lobster is a world bleached of color and individuality. The men wear business casual, the women all wear the same flower print sundress, everyone delivers their lines without inflection, and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis captures it all with precise austerity.
And though The Hotel residents seem resigned, each resident is quietly plotting their escape, some more tragic than others. David fails to find a mate and tries his chances, un-lobsterized, in The Woods where he meets his perfect match (Rachel Weisz). She is another escapee now living in The Woods with a group of singles led by the cruel and compassionless leader (Léa Seydoux) who enforces one simple rule: No one must pair off. If David lacks anything, it is timing.
The Lobster is the perfect story for Lanthimos to trade in—his previous films, Dogtooth and Alps, contained a similar distance and humor—and he cleverly finds the absurdities of each scene. The Lobster may be cruel, but it is poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, partly due to Farrell’s deadpan delivery and drab appearance.
The parallels of The Lobster with our world are fairly obvious and somewhat cynical, but they are profound. People do all sorts of stupid things to find love and keep their mates. Sometimes the motives behind those acts are false and contrived. Other times, they come from deep within the heart. But in the end, the point is quite clear: love hurts. A lot.
The Lobster (2015)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Produced by Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday
Starring: Colin Farrell, Olivia Colman, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw
A24, Rated R, Running time 119 minutes, Premiered May 15, 2015 at the Cannes Film Festival.