Yorgos Lanthimos’ mastery of show and tell borders on virtuosity. His fluctuations between blunt emotional exposition and profound visual resplendence have an instinctual brilliance that captivates without risking alienation. A sharp, claustrophobic study of human relationships, The Lobster puts humanity’s obsession with coupling on full display before it is bloodily dissected and rendered horrifyingly unrecognizable. Heartbreaking, bleak and yet somehow funny, Lanthimos’ film turns the world on its head to unmask sensitive vulnerabilities and to destroy modern standards of societal cordiality.
After 11 years of marriage, the wife of David (Colin Farrell) has left him for another near-sighted man. Getting divorced in this bitter-cold future is perfectly legal — being single is not. David must go to a remote hotel on the outskirts of “The City” where he will be given the opportunity to find a partner or face losing his humanity. “Guests” have 45 days to prove they can find a point of commonality in another person (however banal) and fall in love. If they fail to do so, a murky process is carried out wherein they are transformed into an animal of their choice and released into the wild.
Despite an extraordinary premise that seems humorous in its possibilities (and with plenty of laughs), The Lobster quickly dispels any ideation of being a comedic riot. Raised under the guidelines of this curious future dystopia, the people we encounter have all become calloused to happiness and strive only for the relative safety of coupledom. Guests at the hotel range from near-children unable to find a partner on prom night to middle-aged singles still grieving from the death of a beloved spouse. None ever speak of their emotional pain, and apart from introductory speeches, ex-husbands and dead wives are never spoken of. Brusque in their approach to finding mates, the men and women speak casually of sexual desire (“I always swallow after fellatio” is one woman’s abrupt entreaty) and of everything in between. These characters do not have time or patience for the usual flattery and self-aggrandizement of dating, as Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou have extinguished these concepts and condensed the delicate, months-long dance of courtship into an impersonal elevator pitch.
The Lobster pairs this behavioral deconstruction with a corresponding visual style that indulges in various visual tricks and the artistic vivacity of the setting. Whether pondering the unique architecture of the hotel (distantly reminiscent of Chantal Akerman’s Hôtel Monterey), inviting a sense of isolated despair or bestowing a peaceful beauty onto an otherwise violent event by slowing down time during the first “singles hunt,” Lanthimos’ visual language is as subtle as his characters are brash. The Lobster radiates with symbolism, each oddly-placed cut or bizarre inclusion begging for interpretation. A deeply symbolic satire of relationships, the film pokes fun at the meaningless mutualities young lovers blindly seek in partners and the militant fanaticism to freedom displayed by society’s unwed 30-somethings. Receiving a Queer Palm Special Mention at Cannes (apparently the festival didn’t have many queer-centric entries), Lanthimos’ opinions on marriage legislation are distended to a dystopian conclusion where a governmental stamp-of-approval is the only criterion needed to sustain a relationship.
A raven black (dibs on becoming a raven) comedy wrapped inside a hellish, Orwellian nightmare, The Lobster finds solace in the bright fissures of a world painted grey. Yorgos Lathimos tells a story about our connection with love, as the film’s unabashed dialogue and direction highlight the absurdities of our infatuation with discovering the concrete materiality of an impossibly intangible emotion.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.