The Lobster, the newest film from writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) takes some time to process, to digest the cinematic meal the audience has just consumed. The fact that it lingers in the mind well after an initial viewing is a good sign. The feeling that a second viewing would reveal more of its thematic depth and connective tissue is another plus. However, those feelings are tempered by a heavy dose of malaise. Do I really care about digging more deeply into the world of inscrutable characters that Lanthimos has created?
The film is set in a dystopian future (what other kind is there?) where monogamy is compelled by society. If you find yourself without a mate due to divorce, death or any other circumstance, you report to a facility (in this instance, a hotel) where you are given 45 days to find a new spouse. If you’re unsuccessful, you’re transformed into the animal of your choosing and set free in the wild to live the rest of your days as a non-human.
The men and women at the hotel are issued the same exact clothes and are forced to attend mixers and social events where a match based on similar personality traits is desired. Some participants lose their nerve and run for the fences to live in the wilderness until they die or are captured. You can buy yourself extra days to find a mate if you hunt down and capture a stray human in the woods surrounding the hotel.
David (Colin Ferrell) is separated from his wife. She has moved on to another mate, leaving him the odd man out who must register at the hotel. He is detached from his surroundings, surprisingly emotionless about his predicament. He is accompanied by his brother who has been transformed into a dog after a failed stay at the hotel. David’s days to find a match are dwindling, and he feels compelled to defraud the system and fabricate a bogus relationship to survive. To tell anymore would drift into spoiler territory.
The Lobster is fable of sorts that contemplates a society so disconnected from one another that the slightest of similarities becomes a basis for a permanent relationship. One couple is united because they are both prone to nosebleeds. David and the voiceover narration by Rachel Weisz speak in a strange robotic manner reminiscent of a bad actor reading cue cards. However, this lack of warmth or humanity is intentional, a key to the underlying themes of the film. Even sexual encounters are mechanical and devoid of any emotion. We live in a society where written text messages pass for conversation and social media posts can be considered a relationship. The Lobster envisions a possible future resulting from this isolation, a future where people have to watch skits about marriage to learn to appreciate the value of living with another person.
The film has a dark streak of humor running through it, and despite the dour environment in which it takes place, some of the satire is bitingly funny. One of the propaganda presentations at the hotel tells participants that having a mate is valuable to prevent women from being raped by predatory strangers. (Let’s shoot high, ladies. If that’s not a reason to get hitched, I don’t know what is.) But The Lobster is in on the joke. It suggests that a society devoid of meaningful interaction reverts to satisfying the most basic of survival needs to justify its continued existence. As we all fade away into our virtual reality goggles, what need do we have for other people if we have food, shelter and enough electricity to power all of our devices?
There is one danger in creating an on-screen dystopian society populated by detached people who are hard to identify with: You cease to feel invested in the outcome. We never really understand David or his motivations. His relationships (real and fraudulent) never resonate with the viewer. If The Lobster is a love story, it focuses on a romance that we never identify with. Yes, that’s the point of the film, but that doesn’t necessarily mean The Lobster is an enjoyable date night at the theater. Then again, if you’re making a film about isolation and alienation, maybe you’re not supposed to understand the characters on the screen. My ping-ponging back and forth on the merits and flaws of the film does illustrate how it has lodged itself in my brain. This internal debate is ongoing. Despite any of these qualms, The Lobster is never less than interesting and wholly original. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I have a feeling that second viewing is in my near future.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.