Film Review: The Lobster

by Chad Liffmann on May 20, 2016

An utterly unique (surrealist) romantic comedy that inadvertently subverts all other romantic comedies.

Name the defining characteristic of each of these three.

Name the defining characteristic of each of these three.

To all you single folks — do you feel the pressure of finding a partner? Well, imagine that you have 45 days to do so otherwise you’ll be turned into an animal. How’s that for pressure? That’s the boiled-down premise of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, a fascinatingly bizarre and dark dramedy romance (you could say it transcends multiple genres). Of course, there’s a lot more to The Lobster than just the 45 day ultimatum tidbit. The film eschews most everything that remotely resembles normal storytelling yet manages to convey a uniquely human story within its dystopian setting. The Lobster is a sharp satirical look at the oppressive nature of our societal coupledom, maintaining a steady level of surrealist humor even as it descends into darker and darker territory and an appropriately uneven finish.

The Lobster skewers the pressures placed by our modern day society (and traditional society, for that matter) on finding mates, and similarly on the forced sense of “freedom” we’re meant to feel when single. The majority of The Lobster takes place at a “hotel” — a resort of sorts where recently single folks come to find a mate. As previously mentioned, hotel residents have 45 days to find a suitable mate otherwise they’re turned into an animal of their choosing. During the stay, the hotel organizes various activities to help engage their residents and also conducts mandatory workshops to prove why being single is bad, if not dangerous. Newly single David (Colin Farrell) is one of the hotel’s newest residents — a lobster is his animal of choice. David quickly befriends two other oddball residents played by John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw. Their fruitless attempts to find shared interests or shared physical impairments with women at the hotel, a practice that is highly encouraged, are hilarious. It’s not hard to fit the matters that Lanthimos is teasing into our real life society. For one, it’s so easy to label people quickly based on a single characteristic (note: check out the cast end credits). But, also take a moment to think of all the dating apps, marketing tactics, and traditional coupling norms surrounding us on a daily basis. It is the foundation of which the romantic comedy genre was built upon. Lanthimos takes all of it and flips it on its head. 

Farrell is fantastic in The Lobster. His involvement in this role reminds me a bit about his role in In Bruges. Not that the characters are the same, but you can tell that he sensed something dark and intelligent about both scripts, and was willing to go the extra mile to deliver engaging and entertaining performances for both independent pictures (In Bruges earned him a Golden Globe, so we’ll see if this one gains any traction). Rachel Weisz is equally terrific as a short-sighted woman (her defining characteristic). She’s a member of a pack of single people surviving off the land just beyond the hotel grounds, in the forest. One of the more fascinating themes at play in The Lobster is the comparisons being made between the world of couple and the world of singles, but I’ll let you experience that for yourself.

The monotone delivery from the characters reveals more emotions than you’d expect. There’s just something about the way the actors strip their lines of flavor that cuts to the core of what they’re really thinking. Through their expressions and the most subtle of inflections, we can know exactly what the intentions of each character are at any moment. It’s a remarkable achievement in storytelling and helps fuel the satirical world in which The Lobster takes place. As gruesome acts of violence, ridiculous and sexist mandatory workshops, and animal transformation reminders come about, each character takes it all in calm stride.

And maybe that’s the point of The Lobster, to get us thinking hard about how we notice and handle the pressures placed on us by those with the most influence. Let’s work to avoid this unsettling dystopian future for ourselves. But if it does come to pass, I’ll choose an otter.

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The Lobster opens in select theaters May 20th.

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