“The Lobster” is a low-budget, high-concept, film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos; starring Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, and Rachel Weisz. It’s Lanthimos’ first English-speaking feature film, and whilst it isn’t for everyone, I feel as though it was made for me. It’s a unique experience with plenty of memorable moments, and I would highly recommend it.
Unlike the films that I’ve reviewed in the past, this one isn’t in cinemas right now. It had its UK release back in October last year, but for a variety of reasons it didn’t stick around, and I didn’t see it. I’m reviewing it now because I think it’s a wonderful piece of cinema, and I don’t think that many people will have heard of it, which in my view makes it sufficiently relevant.
In May, “The Lobster” was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival and managed to win the Jury Prize, yet I only heard about it through a friend. As such, I think that trying to spread the word is something that needs to be done, which is why I’ve decided to write this review.
The film is set in a not-so-distant future, in which the rules of the city dictate that any person who does not have a partner must be taken to the Hotel. The inhabitants then have 45 days to find a partner; if they cannot do so they are turned into an animal of their choice, which acts as a punishment for failure, and also extra motivation to succeed. In order to gain more time to complete their task, guests take part in The Hunt, in which they chase down Loners who have left the Hotel without permission. For each Loner a guest catches they are given one extra day at the Hotel.
Outside of the Hotel, the Loners live by a completely different set of rules. They don’t see the value in sexual relationships, so any form of romance is strictly prohibited, but unlike the rest of society they condone masturbation. The first act of the film focuses squarely on the Hotel and its many guests, but as the plot progresses the Loners become the focal point; offering an opposite perspective on love, whilst still restricting the freedom of their people.
When explaining the plot, the bit about people getting turned into animals sounds mysterious and maybe slightly mental, but in fact it has a very small part to play in the overall narrative of the film. It basically acts as a deterrent for anyone who doesn’t want to follow society’s rules and find a mate, explaining why the people in the Hotel play along despite the fact that they don’t seem to desperately want to find someone.
The film’s title refers to the fact that the main character, David (Colin Farrell), wishes to become a lobster if he cannot find a partner, as lobsters live for over 100 years and remain fertile throughout their lifespan. This is in no way a movie about lobsters – a lobster never appears in the film – the title is just a quirky way of referencing a small detail of the movie’s plot.
After the film builds its quirky little world, it introduces a variety of single pringles hoping to find ‘love’. These people include the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), and Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), all of whom are pretty hopeless in their endeavours to find another half.
You might notice that these people all have a perceived fault – and you’d be correct because the film does want you to think about the implications of this fact – but their titles also refer to each individual’s defining characteristic. This characteristic is the one thing that each person must look for in another person if they’re going to be a match. The introduction of these characteristics in the film acts as a critique of today’s dating culture – in which algorithms are used by dating sites to match one person with another based on vague personality traits – but is also a key plot device.
David’s defining characteristic is that he is short-sighted, which appears to be extremely trivial for an essential aspect of someone’s personality, and it leaves him hopeless when it comes to finding love in the Hotel. Nobody else in the Hotel is short-sighted, so there’s no way that he can find a suitable partner. This means that he has to resort to underhanded tactics in order to convince another guest that they are in fact a match, which in turn leads to some hilarious scenes, and some not so hilarious scenes.
It’s interesting to think about what point Lanthimos might be trying to make about modern society by introducing these defining characteristics. For me, the important thing about them, as they are explained in the film, is that they almost always relate to a limitation of a person’s physical capabilities. Very rarely do they have anything at all to do with the nature of the person, or how that person will treat you if you get into a relationship with them, which says a lot about the decisions that we make about other people in the real world.
Before we enter into a relationship there’s an implicit agreement that one person finds the other attractive, and it is often the case that this decision predates the moment at which we learn who that person is on the inside. We decide whether or not a person is right for us before we have any understanding of who that person is or what they have to offer, predominantly because there is something about them which we perceive to be inferior.
This is also the case in the universe that “The Lobster” portrays, as people are restricted in the type of person that they can enter into a relationship with based on the negative factors that make them less immediately appealing. The only difference between the guests in the Hotel, and people in the real world, is that the people in the Hotel are more honest about which people they find sexually acceptable. In reality, we probably meet 10 people a day who we would be happy with in a relationship, but for whatever reason we pass them by without so much as a hello. Our defining characteristics then, as understood in “The Lobster”, are not the things which make us who we are, but the aspects of our person which somebody else must be able to accept before they enter into a relationship with us.
Now, it might be a little difficult to get a grasp on what this film is actually like (in terms of tone) after reading my admittedly general plot summary, but to give away too much would significantly weaken the film’s impact, and thus I don’t want to get into the heart of the story. Having said that, I should explain that “The Lobster’s” primary purpose is to entertain – it’s a black comedy with some pretty poignant social commentary, but it’s still a comedy first-and-foremost. If the way that I’ve explained it makes it sound bizarre, then good, because it 100% is, but it is also fully aware of itself. It tries to be different to make you laugh, and on that front it most definitely succeeds.
Still, it isn’t strange for the sake of being strange; there’s a clear purpose to each oddity that the script has to offer, as each plot point represents a critique, or an observation, of love in the 21st Century. “The Lobster” presents its audience with a view on dating today, and it asks them whether or not they think that what’s going on is right – it doesn’t preach or try to sway opinion, it simply offers you a mirror. It’s shot through the eyes of a man who is unlucky in love, and it showcases the obstacles that he faces in his attempts to find a new partner, attacking three stigmas in three acts.
The first act critiques the idea that for someone to be alone there must be something wrong with them; as David becomes friends with the Limping Man and the Lisping Man, and it becomes clear that nobody in the Hotel is a match for them. The second act highlights the fact that many people believe that it is better to be in a relationship than to be alone, as David feigns love for a woman that he can barely stand. This act also explores the types of issues that people will overlook in order to find acceptance from the opposite (or the same) sex. Finally, the third act presents the opposite perspective, as David struggles to integrate into a group which believes that it is in fact better to be alone.
I found this structure to be very entertaining, as David didn’t fit into either of the categories presented in acts two and three; underlining the fact that neither being with someone, nor being alone, is necessarily a better state of affairs than the other. What is important is that if you are in a relationship then it is with the right person, but if you aren’t then there isn’t something wrong with you, you just haven’t met that person yet.
“The Lobster” is able to explore these ideas whilst simultaneously presenting itself as an insane and at times vulgar comedy, which in my view is what makes it so enjoyable.
Still, all this hidden meaning would’ve been lost if the cast hadn’t performed as admirably as they did. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are experienced actors, but neither of them are known for their forays into comedy, so it came as a welcome surprise to me that they adapted so seamlessly. Farrell was sincere and relatable as a lonely man looking to find his missing piece, and Weisz was utterly hilarious as both the narrator of the film and her character. Her deadpan delivery was spot on, and her commitment to making the ridiculousness of the dialogue seem completely normal made it that bit more amusing.
Overall, “The Lobster” is a wonderful movie with great depth. It’s as eccentric as it is intelligent, and it manages to be side-splittingly funny without telling a joke. On top of that, the social commentary that it presents is both insightful and unsettling, as Lanthimos questions the way in which we as a society view other people and enter into relationships. I’m not saying that it will appeal to everyone, but if you’re interested then I would definitely recommend that you check it out.