Reviewed by Cederick Gibbs
The camera opens on a middle aged woman driving her car in rural Ireland. We see the raindrops on the driver’s side window. We faintly hear the raindrops as the woman drives with a sense of focus, like she is on a mission. As she reaches her destination and leaves the car, the windshield wipers can be heard more loudly than before. The camera, which was fixed before, now pans to the woman, who is walking up to some donkeys in a field. She walks up to a particular donkey and shoots it.
This is the opening scene of The Lobster. And from that opening scene, the viewer (or reader, if you’re checking out this review without knowing about the movie) might be puzzled. If you know the premise, you will be a bit shocked or disgusted. The premise of The Lobster is this: if a person is single, they must find a mate in 45 days or they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. Now that opening scene is a bit more shocking with that knowledge.
This film is from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, and this is his English language feature film debut. Lanthimos’ most likely known previous film, Dogtooth, received critical accolades and The Lobster seems like it will receive some as well. Lanthimos also wrote the screenplay for The Lobster along with Efthymis Filippou. Cinematography is done by Thimios Bakatakis and the film is edited by Yorgos Mavropsaridis. The Lobster has a lovely cast, which includes Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, and Ben Whishaw. The Lobster follows Colin Farrell’s David, our protagonist, who is recently divorced. As I have stated in the premise, everyone who is single is transferred to a hotel where they have 45 days to find a mate or be turned into an animal of their choosing. There is one way to get more time. The singles at the hotel are allowed (read: forced) to hunt loners, those who have rejected society’s siren call of coupledom. For each loner caught, one day is added to a single’s quest to find a mate. If a single person finds a mate, they will be transferred to a couple’s suite. From there, they will spend some time on a yacht. If they encounter problems in their relationship, a child will be assigned to them, just like how some people think children will solve their relationship/marital problems in real life. The loners have their own strict rules that forbid flirting or dancing together.
The dystopian world portrayed by The Lobster gets stranger from the opening scene. As David enters the hotel, he is asked several questions, including his sexual preference. After this, he is issued the mandatory attire and told some rules. In these instances it is quickly understood that there is little flexibility, in-between, or fluidity. For example, for sexual preference, you have to choose heterosexual or homosexual. There aren’t any other non-hetero options. Also, there aren’t any half shoe sizes, no 11 ½ etc. Another rule is no masturbation. With just these restrictions, some of us would probably opt to just be changed to an animal. Maybe you’ll get some freedom as an animal, unless a human hunts you or you end up in a zoo. Oh well.
The Lobster introduces most of the hotel guests through their One Unique Trait ™. There is a bit of humor and detachment derived from this. When you have the lady who is fond of biscuits (the European variety) and the guy who has a speech impediment, you can refer to them as biscuit woman and lisp guy. You also have guy with a limp, nosebleed girl, girl with golden locks, and the woman who is heartless (lacks empathy). This definitely sounds like some kind of attraction. These are the characters’ names for the most part. The only two who have names besides David are Robert (John C. Reilly, lisp) and Sam (Ben Whishaw, limp). These names are pretty common and could be forgotten or confused. I’m almost sure those are their names.
David befriends Robert and Sam, and they form a clique. The singles interact with each other during activities such as the dance, on the ride to the loner hunt, breakfast, or other leisure activities. The characters initiate awkward conversation and tell each other their room numbers and find out if they have something in common, no matter how vapid or trivial. The humor comes from these painfully relatable interactions even if they are detached somewhat. It can remind one of summer camp, college, or high school, especially for the introverted or shy.
This is an interesting acting turn from Colin Farrell. His character David, reminds me a bit of another forlorn male film character, Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore from the film Her. Mostly it’s surface level. Theodore is soulful while David can barely hold a conversation and gets even more awkward when he is upset or angry. I could probably write a separate article discussing Her and The Lobster, but I’ll file that away as something that could be considered in the future (also Her is a personal favorite). Anyway, David bumbles throughout the film and while watching him, I was a bit baffled that this was Colin Farrell. Especially a frumpy Colin Farrell. He portrays the character well and I enjoyed his performance.
I should state how dark, detached and dry this film is. The characters are awkward, the narration is detached and dry, and the humor is a combination of the three. This is where the humor comes from, even though some might not find some things funny. There is a good amount of violence towards animals, other people, and some self-harm. This is a disclaimer.
This film will not be for everyone, even those who consider themselves off the beaten path. I still recommend The Lobster to those who like watching films that have interesting premises and be a bit out there between viewing the more regular popcorn entertainment and safer prestige pics. There is a lot more that I could discuss. The performances are interesting (Léa Seydoux’s leader of the loners is a chilly, understated ruthless performance). Also, the film has a lot to say about the pressures of society in terms of finding someone to have and maintain a relationship with. It also shows the lengths that some will go to not be alone, what some will do to keep people alone, and how difficult it can be to initiate conversation and get to know someone. The Lobster is also a critique of our online dating 100% compatibility/no flaws/matched by a million metrics society. We must know that while it is possible to find someone who may be just like us, is that for everyone? Surely, we have to accept some flaws or things we don’t like or care for, as long as it is not detrimental to the relationship. In my observation of society, I’m not sure.