If you’re looking for the kind of movie that dutifully works its way toward a conclusion you can see coming from several multiplexes away, you may want to skip The Lobster, a film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. Lanthimos marches — or in the case of The Lobster — crawls to a different drummer, immersing us in worlds that slowly reveal their secrets.
The movie takes place in what looks like the near future. Newly divorced David (Colin Farrell) has taken his dog to a hotel that imposes strange rules on its guests. The main rule allots each guest 45 days to find a mate or be turned into an animal — of his or her choosing, of course.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
The pressure on hotel guests can be felt from the start because in this society, being single has been classified as a crime.
As near as we can tell, the transformations from human to animal aren’t meant to be taken on a strictly metaphorical level. At various times, we see animals wandering the hotel grounds. We, of course, realize that we’re looking at former guests who didn’t make the cut.
Somewhere near the hotel, there’s a city, which Lanthimos later will visit. Life there proceeds in reasonably normal fashion, but only married people are allowed to live in the city.
At the hotel, David meets two additional male guests, equally miserable fellows played by Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly.
When not thinking about finding a mate, the guests hunt with tranquilizer guns. Their prey: loners who live in the woods beyond the hotel, people who — if shot — give the successful hunter an important extra day to continue searching for a spouse. And, oh yes, mates must share at least one common trait, like being short-sighted, for example.
It may occur to you that The Lobster wants to be a weird commentary on mating and dating, which transpires in near-mechanistic fashion at the hotel; everything feels depersonalized.
There’s more to the plot, but I won’t reveal it here, except to say that at one point, David joins the loners who are led by a woman of severe temperament (Lea Seydoux). She tells them that loners may masturbate at will, but aren’t allowed to touch one another. With awful punishments looming, no one wants to get crosswise with the leader.
Among the loners, short-sighted David meets a short-sighted woman played by Rachel Weisz; a romance begins to take shape.
Now, it may not sound like it, but deadpan humor runs through the movie; Lanthimos wrings emotion out of human interaction in ways that are both bizarre and funny.
When Reilly’s character is caught masturbating, he’s punished by being forced to insert his hand into a toaster. It’s so weird that we chuckle, even as we wince. People actually submit to this?
Farrell does a fine job as David, going soft around the middle and maintaining an even — if morose — keel. If David doesn’t find a mate and must be turned into an animal, he selects a lobster. He says they live long and remain fertile throughout their existence. Thus, the movie’s title.
If you check the credits, you’ll see that some of the characters have been named for their defining characteristics, as in Reilly’s Lisping Man and Whishaw’s Limping Man. Angelika Papouila raises the movie’s fright level as one of the hotel’s most successful hunters, a woman with no feelings. Her name: The Heartless One.
Olivia Colman shows up as the hotel’s manager, a host whose crisp efficiencies suggest a cross between a school principal and a prison warden.
It’s impossible to predict whether you’ll enjoy The Lobster or be driven crazy by it. Lanthimos (Dogtooth) may not care into which group you fall.
The movie’s insistent strangeness throws human relationships into a Kafaesque stew and stirs, letting us know what happens when humans (both the hotel guests and the rebel loners) are jammed into a world governed by absurd rules.
Comparisons to known realities probably are encouraged.