The Lobster is a science fiction film. In the dystopian (I’m tired of that descriptor) world setting of Yorgos Lanthimos‘s first English language film, any person without a mate is turned into the animal of their choice.
Of course it’s a science fiction film.
David (Colin Farrell) is newly divorced. He checks into a hotel where, in the next 45 days, he must find a partner from among the other patrons or he will be turned into a lobster. A narrator (who will figure in David’s destiny) provides a tense and distanced backstory with a tone bordering on hysteria. David connects only on the most banal level with both men and women staying at the hotel. He’s a nebbishy cypher, stiff and forlorn. People at the hotel aren’t named, only described by surface characteristics. “Biscuit” woman or “campari” man. David’s brother, Bob, is the only other character given a name and he’s now a dog. People couple up in this world for the most desperate and tenuous of reasons, their entire existence not based on love or joy, only the avoidance of a timed out morphing that society requires. “Loners” escape to the woods, living in the wild. Hunted by the hotel’s residents, Loners have their own harsh rules to keep people from coupling at all. The clock is ticking and David couples wrongly, loses his brother, then escapes into the woods.
In this day and age of changing marriage equality much has been written on how a single person who is still single seems to set off mild societal alarm bells.
Do we really only accept a person as one of a unit of two? Should there be consequences if someone can’t attain another person’s commitment?
Posing that question fits Lanthimos’ artistic worldview. He applies odd, theatrical strictures to notions of relationships. The unsettling and great Dogtooth had a father falsify all of the world itself to protect his family, even recasting language to keep them from questioning his control. Alps extrapolated out what could be deemed an intuitive but wrong headed approach to grief counseling.
The Lobster is a melange of Kafka and Orwell but possessing an innate tenderness. It’s comparable to Her (2013 Spike Jonze) in that the most “sci-fi” elements of the premise aren’t the point and aren’t even portrayed. Jonze’s film didn’t dive into the mechanics of an operating system becoming a sentient, feeling creature and we don’t see the process by which humans become animals in this film. Both are treatises on human need and loneliness but more to the point in The Lobster, being alone isn’t necessarily loneliness and a perhaps unneeded quest for a soul mate is another kind of void.
Lanthimos pushes this sad envelope but isn’t stridently indicting anything. Usually in a film with a (here it is again) dystopian theme, some rugged individual topples a massive futuristic fascist state. Explosions, athleticism and moral high-grounding an evil empire into the dust. It’s a form of fascism portrayed in The Lobster. Perhaps even the most personal and private form, but unlike most writers or filmmakers where they flip what passes for the accepted, civilized norm on its head to make a heavy-handed point, Lanthimos takes only a slight side step from the straight line of polite society and uses the bemused questioning of a playwright to strike at those dark tones. It’s an urgent and beautiful looking film.
Meet it for an awkward conversation before you choose your animal. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 8/2/16