Movie review: Dystopian rom-com ‘The Lobster’ explores loneliness, aloneness
There are occasions when there’s nothing for a film critic to do but blurt out the premise of a movie. No beating around the bush, no worrying about spoilers (relax, there won’t be any blatant ones here). It’s just that sometimes it’s the critic’s duty, even if the film is getting a good review, to warn off a segment of viewers that might not want anything to do with said film. So here goes:
In “The Lobster,” which was made, in English, by a Greek director and screenwriter, and set in some unnamed place, in a time that’s probably slightly in the future, people check into a grand hotel, an isolated old place set on a lake, where they’re allowed to stay for 45 days. If, at the end of that period, they haven’t fallen in love with one of the other guests there, they will be turned into an animal of their choice, then set free.
Well, OK, there go a few moviegoers right now. This one sure won’t be on their must-see lists.
But, there’s a lot more. It appears that people come here voluntarily. One fellow named David (Colin Farrell), the only person in the film that’s called by name — other characters include Limping Man (Ben Wishaw), Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), and my favorite, Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) — is there, along with David’s dog Bob (Hey, another name!). David is there because he recently discovered his wife doesn’t love him anymore. Others are around, but not of their own accord: the “loners” live in the woods and are hunted down by hotel residents with tranquilizer guns, then brought back as trophies/new residents. In an even more sinister situation, security officers walk though the city streets (the film briefly jumps to city scenes) looking for single people.
One of the problems with the film is that not much is satisfactorily explained. And one of the coolest things about it is that not much is satisfactorily explained. What’s happening is the way things are, wherever and whenever this is happening.
The title of the film? That’s an easy one. David states right away that if he fails at finding love he wants to be turned into a lobster. Why? Oh, he does explain that part, but it won’t be revealed here.
All kinds of questions keep rising up, like are all of the animals that in the woods around the place actually former people? Maybe. The only certainty on that issue is that Bob the dog was once David’s brother Bob. And there are household hints to be shared, such as, “Never use warm water on blood stains.”
The message of the film is that it’s not good to be alone, but there are degrees of aloneness here. If you’re a hotel guest, you should definitely be seeking out a partner. That could be done at the dances in the ballroom or in the communal dining area. If some lucky guests do find a companion, they can be moved from the singles’ rooms to the more spacious couples’ rooms, where every action – including sexual activity – is closely monitored. But if you’re out in the woods among the loners (the story eventually goes out there, too), getting together with anyone in any sort of intimate situation is forbidden. In the hotel, guests are treated like children and harshly punished if they break rules. In the woods, the loners live like, dare I say it, animals, and if they break the rules they earn a great deal more than a swat on the nose with a newspaper.
Everything about “The Lobster” is absurd, but it’s played completely straight, right down to the idea of the lonely hotel guests looking for mates that have shared traits. For instance, the Limping Man is hoping to find a limping woman. The film starts off as a strange piece, then steadily grows weirder, right up to the unnerving end, where it’s at its weirdest. Thank goodness the interior of the Transformation Room, where unspeakable things happen, remains unseen.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou; directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
With Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz