Verdict: “The Lobster” is wickedly funny for the right sense of humor, but you’ve got to be willing to cringe a fair bit.
The sweet irony of my “Lobster” viewing experience was the sheer number of couples. Almost my entire audience was paired, with me and one or two more loners sitting by ourselves. “Clearly affirming something,” I cruelly thought to myself, assuming that only single people could possibly get the point I figured the film would make. Boy, did I underestimate the breadth of Yorgos Lanthimos’ criticism. Nobody leaves “The Lobster” unscathed; life is rigid and absurd whether or not you’ve got a partner in Lanthimos’ newest pitch black comedy.
“The Lobster” stars Colin Farrell as recently divorced David who gets shipped off to live amongst other singles at a mysterious place called The Hotel. There, he has 45 days to find a new mate or be turned into an animal and released into the wild.
True to the film’s world view, “The Lobster”’s premise matters more than the characters. What we feel for them is wrought by the situation since, in standard Lanthimos form, none of them have any personality. David is the only named character, with everyone else aptly described by their attributes, such as Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden).
Finding a partner in the Hotel is as easy as meeting someone who shares one of these attributes. Your spouse may be your spouse because you share the same favorite color, or you both like pasta. Obviously these relationships aren’t built to be fulfilling, they’re built out of necessity; no partner, you lose your human life.
That situation ain’t quite gucci, so (spoilers) David escapes into the woods where he teams up with a clan of Loners, people who fled the Hotel in order to stay alone forever. The rules here are just as inane and restrictive: no singledom shall be had inside the Hotel, nor shall coupling be tolerated outside in the woods.
I’m pleased that Lanthimos chose to shine his bright light on preternaturally jealous single people, of whose ranks I have been a part many a time. The Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux) flips at the earliest sign of romancing in her group. While her annoyance is way less entertaining than the goings-ons inside the Hotel, she illuminates a false dichotomy held up on both sides, by the partnered and the single folk.
Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has spent his career dealing in this brand of deadpan absurdism as part of the Greek New Wave cinema movement. Greek New Wave is pretty much summed up by another loving moniker, Greek Weird Wave, and Lanthimos is certainly leading the pack. Past topics include a guy who keeps his grown children locked in his house and a woman whose part time job is dressing up as lost loved ones for the grieving (“Dogtooth” and “Alps”.)
His interest in identity and the way we form relationships has been ascribed by some as a commentary on the Tinder age. You can definitely read that in the film, though I think Lanthimos’ skepticism goes deeper than just the shallow ogling associated with online dating.
And then of course there’s the grander poke at marriage, which comes to just the right audience as millennials keep ignoring that sacred institution.
All the awkwardness, stiltedness, and making fun of the status quo, Lanthimos has created a jagged-sharp film that captures the essence of looking for love and twists it into something so recognizable it hurts to think about.
Whether or not “The Lobster”’s topicality resonates with you doesn’t make the film, though. You’re not required to dwell on the themes to have a good time. It’s funny by its own right, with enough awkward interactions and uncomfortable dancing to keep you cringing all the way through, but, you know, in a way good way.