“The Lobster”, which received the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, is another dark, weird, and ruthless comedy from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who previously struck us with his offbeat black comedy film “Dogtooth” (2009). That film was about one nutty family who have been isolated from the outside environment for years by their stern, tyrannical patriarch, and it was both absurd and disturbing to see how he brainwashes his children to extreme degrees while often resorting to brutal tactics for giving them some lessons they will surely not forget.
In case of “The Lobster”, we are introduced to another bizarre world which is far wider but equally strange in many aspects. In a dystopian society in the near future, every adult citizen must have a spouse to live with, and single people must find their spouse within a short period of time allotted to them. They are all sent to a hotel located in some remote area outside their city, and there will be a serious consequence if they fail to find any suitable spouse before their time is over. Besides saying goodbye to their human life as they know, failures will be transformed into animals they chose in advance, and that will be how they are going to spend the rest of their life.
The movie shows us the details of this strange systemic process mainly through its plain hero played by Colin Farrell, who looks more mundane and paunchier than usual. Shortly after his wife left him for another guy, David is sent to the hotel along with a dog which was previously his brother, and he goes through a number of check-in procedures before getting his room. When he is asked about which animal he wishes to be transformed into, he casually replies that he wants to be a lobster. That may not be a very good choice if there is any seafood restaurant near the hotel, but at least it seems to be a better option than endangered species.
Like other guests in the hotel, he receives 45 days for finding his right spouse, and that short period can be extended whenever he captures ‘loners’ during the routine hunt in a nearby forest. Loners are people who ran away from the hotel when they could no longer extend their stay at the hotel, and hotel guests are ready to use their tranquillizer gun whenever their time to hunt loners comes. One of the guests is particularly notorious for how she has ruthlessly maintained her stay in the hotel, and she does not even look very interested in getting her Mr. Right. After all, every guest in the hotel is her potential game, isn’t it?
As days go by, David becomes a bit friendly with some of his fellow guests while being accustomed to the strict rules adamantly applied to him and others. They are not allowed to masturbate (there is a severe punishment for that as shown during one unforgiving moment), but hotel maids are willing to provide a certain type of room service to their guests as a temporary alternative, though they always stop before going too far. Under the hotel manager’s supervision, the hotel guests attend absurd group meetings which constantly remind them of why a man needs a woman, or vice versa (considering that there also seem to be a separate place for homosexuals, I would love to see what kind of variations they will present to their gay/lesbian guests).
We also see how the hotel guests can move up to the next level once they find their match. In case of a young man with limp, he manages to get the affection of a woman with frequent nosebleed, and they are soon transferred to their new room as a couple. If they can maintain their relationship during next two weeks, they will be moved to another stage where they can further solidify their relationship during another two weeks – and then they will be allowed to return to the city as a legitimate couple.
As his time is running out day by day, David naturally becomes desperate. He attempts to be a couple with a certain guest he does not like a lot, but it only turns out to be disastrous for both of them (and his dog, unfortunately). Through some unexpected help, he escapes from the hotel and then joins the loners in the forest, but he comes to face another set of strict rules as becoming one of them. In contrast to the hotel guests forced to coupledom, the loners forbid themselves to get too close to each other for keeping their single status, and they are also as merciless as hotel staff members if anyone happens to violate their rules.
And the movie finally introduces to us the constant narrator of the film, played by Rachel Weisz. As loners, she and David initially distance themselves from each other as required, but they begin to feel something between them, and that mutual feeling is developed further while they have to disguise themselves as a couple during their covert mission in the city. Of course, there comes a point when they go too far with their ‘disguise’, and they find themselves tested for the endurance of their relationship just like those synthetic couples in the hotel.
“The Lobster” is the first English language film by Lanthimos, and he did a good job of transplanting his distinctive style to this film. You can instantly recognize his own stark mix of morbid laughs and striking violent moments from its decidedly ambiguous narrative, and Lanthimos also draws fine controlled performances from Farrell, Weisz, and other notable cast members including Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, and John C. Reilly (the special mention goes to Angeliki Papoulia, who is utterly vicious in her heartless supporting role).
I guess the lesson of its story is that our human feelings cannot be easily defined or controlled no matter how much we try. I have been so far fine with my unmarried status, but who knows what will possibly happen to me during next several years? I may finally consider marriage as my parents have wanted, but then I may change my mind again after more thoughts and feelings.
The movie becomes less compelling as its premise becomes shakier around its third act, and I cannot help but wonder where loners get their backpacks and ponchos from – or why they do not move far away from both the city and the hotel despite their constant danger. Its open ending is rather anti-climactic even though it will make some of you cringe for a good reason, and I felt both detached and amused during my viewing, but “The Lobster” is still an odd, interesting work to admire for its style and atmosphere.