TIFF Review: The Lobster
Joe Scarnici/ Alberto E. Rodriguez/ Todd Williamson/ Michael Tran/ Getty Images
What a f*cking weird movie. I love it, I can’t guarantee you will all love it, too, but if you’re open to trying a different flavor, The Lobster is definitely worth a shot. The first English-language feature from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), and co-written with his regular collaborator Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster is very funny, occasionally brutal, and completely bizarre. In a near-ish future, people have forty-five days to couple off, or else they’ll be turned into an animal of their choice and live out their lives as those animals. Colin Farrell stars as David, a man whose wife leaves him, so he checks into a resort hotel in order to find a new partner. His brother, Bob, has already failed at this task and been turned into a dog. Should David fail, he would like to be a lobster.
As David’s stay at the hotel goes on, we learn more about the rules of the world Lanthimos created. Coupledom is prized above all else, and people identify themselves with distinctive traits, like the “limping man” and the “short-sighted woman”. David and Bob are the only characters with actual names in the whole movie. While at the hotel, the single guests are restricted to specific areas and are regularly subjected to lessons reminding them of why coupledom is so important—things like “not choking to death at a meal” and “preventing rape” top the list. The single guests also go on “hunts” in which they tranquilize people in the woods, and for each “loner” captured they earn an extra day on their stay.
The Lobster is the kind of movie that six different people can see and walk away with six different ideas of what it’s about, and there’s a lot to parse. The timed search for a partner creates an unappealing air of desperation, and people lie to one another in order to form new pairs and not be turned into animals—children are assigned in case a couple can’t stop fighting. But the life of the loners living in the woods isn’t much better, for while there’s more “free time”, you also can’t ever fall in love, or even flirt. The Lobster is a world of extremes, there is no middle ground, not even half sizes in shoes. You have to be wholly one thing, or another. My takeaway from the film is that that kind of unforgiving regulation is soul-crushing. It also results in boring people, which I imagine is why Lanthimos has all his actors speak in flat, monotone voices.
This being a Lanthimos film, events steadily escalate until we’re caught up in an ending that is equal parts horrifying and absurd. Characters make decisions and react in ways that are completely logical, it’s just that the frame of the film is so nuts that it gets steadily weirder and weirder as it follows its premise to the furthest conclusion. I don’t want to give anything away because this is a film that consistently surprises—every time you think you have it sussed out, it changes tack and goes somewhere entirely different than you were expecting. It requires you to think, and it has some unflattering ideas about a society that puts too much emphasis on finding the perfect mate. Given the plethora of dating apps and the multi-billion dollar wedding industry, it’s not hard to see where Lanthimos got his inspiration. The Lobster has real humor, but it’s also pretty dark (warning: a Bad Thing happens to a dog), but it won’t be for everyone. I think it’s worth trying, but you do so at your own risk.