In his mocking indictment of romantic norms, Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos creates a world in which coupling up is the law of the land. The Lobster stars Colin Farrell as a widower sent from The City to The Hotel, a luxury resort where single people are given 45 days to find a partner or else be turned into an animal of their choosing and released into The Woods. Matching the absurdity of this dystopic vision is Lanthimos’ mannered deadpan style that hysterically downplays the ridiculousness of these situations. Nobody bats an eye when David (Farrell) introduces the Border Collie by his side as his brother Bob. “Most people want to be dogs, that’s why there are so many of them.” Though The Lobster loses some steam partway through, Lanthimos’ English-language debut is among the most sharply clever satires this decade.
The Lobster aims its critical lens on the mysticisms and dumb reductive guidelines surrounding the concept of fated love. The 45 days given to guests of The Hotel could just as easily be someone telling a friend they want to be married before they’re 30. But this artificially imposed timeline has the single people in The Lobster scrambling to make connections or find meaningless similarities. David suggests The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) try his luck on a new guest of The Hotel whose ankle is sprained. Hoping that their defining characteristics will help to determine a soul mate, the guests appear anxious and depressed by their inability to meet societal expectations for love.
Lanthimos’ film is intricately designed, but sparse enough to invite questioning. He tells us that rule-breakers are turned into the worst animal possible, but leaves it to us to imagine what creature that might be. He lets a camel meander through the forest and has you wondering, “Who could that be?” It’s an engaging experience that continually reveals bizarre new layers to its bleak vision.
Farrell’s performance helps anchor this strange reality, imbuing his lines with a dry, reserved demeanor. David is a character who hides his emotions under a presentable appearance, but Farrell is a subtle enough performer that he lets you see inside David’s mind through his exasperated delivery and the shaky timbre of his voice. The rest of the cast adopts a similar bluntness to their speech, making the whole universe of The Lobster seem full of self-conscious characters with stilted speaking patterns. Particularly Rachel Weisz, serving as both Short Sighted Woman and the film’s narrator, has some hilariously emotionless line readings.
The further that The Lobster moves away from its original impetus, the less pointed its perspective feels. It begins to lose that sense of chaotic unpredictability and ultimately becomes slightly dour. Still, the cinematography remains beautiful throughout and the story has enough twists to maintain interest. Whatever qualms one might have about the less spectacular last half of The Lobster doesn’t take away from the sheer brilliance of its first hour: a relentless funny observation of humanity’s conformist inclinations when seeking love.