– by David Morgan-Brown
With just one film, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has set himself already as a director who makes films about large hypothetical scenarios, using these absurd ludicrous situations to evoke some sort of social commentary (as well as providing us with plenty of dark laughs). Dogtooth (2009) established this by focusing on a family imprisoned by their own father, who scared them not to ever leave the house and gave them a false impression of the outside world. This sort of otherworldly scenario has been expanded beyond just a house and into the whole world with his new film, The Lobster, a deeply dark and riotously funny comedy about the lack of romance in a world centred around relationships.
The basic set-up for this film is undeniably original: any single adults, like the recently divorced David (Colin Farrell) are taken to a hotel with the other singles (or loners) and must find a partner within a certain amount of time … otherwise they are turned into an animal and let loose into the woods (of course). You can probably guess what animal David wants to be turned into. He makes his acquaintance with other loners (played by Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly) as they scope out the opposite sex for a compatible partner. However, the hotel is restrictive and makes it all the more hard and more awkward to find a new loving partner, including a number of horrible “exercises” and punishments that David finds downright awful.
The first half of The Lobster is used to fill the audience in on this unusual setting. The reason that being alone is met with such a stark punishment is explained by the hotel staff in an amusingly bitter demonstration. Marriages and children are assigned to couples by the higher ups. Romance itself seems to be determined by “defining characteristics” (usually flaws like a limp or a nosebleed). Even platonic friendships seem artificial in this nightmarish dystopian society that seems to have entirely excised love itself.
David (the only named character here) helps lead us through this dizzyingly terrifying (yet hilarious to watch) alternative world, as he breaks free of the horrors of the hotel and falls in love (perhaps genuinely) with a similarly short-sighted woman (Rachel Weicz). Within a new restrictive order, they are disencouraged to pursue any romantic or sexual relations, making their quelled affection for each other seem even more enduring. Perhaps there is some sort of love in this awful world.
This is a rather extraordinary and unique dark rom-com, with the first half (establishing the order of the hotel) holding more of the funnier parts of the film, with plenty of violent slapstick gags. The second half has more of a focus on humorous deadpan dialogue and the “romance” side of things – whether or not the film concludes as a love-letter to love will depend on each viewer’s interpretation. I can’t say this is a film for everyone, as it’s so sharply misanthropic and removed from humanity, yet I was completely enthralled and swallowed up by its oddness that makes a number of funny and acute observations about modern day love. Go see it with your loved one and/or dog.