'The Lobster' plays intriguing shell games with the human heart
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz star in a dense, dystopian allegory about love, loneliness, and lobstersTuesday May 24, 2016 04:00 am EDT
The Lobster doesn’t force folks to fight each other on television or divide them into castes a la Divergent. Here, if single people can’t find love, they check into a special hotel, and guests who don’t partner up in 45 days will be physically transformed into an animal. During his check-in interview, depressed architect David (Colin Farrell) says that, if worse comes to worst, he’d like to be a lobster. David knows the consequences, as he lives with a dog who used to be his brother. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou seem to take their primary inspiration from fiction writers like George Saunders or Being John Malkovich screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who specialize in emotionally cut-off protagonists caught in absurd environments. The Lobster doesn’t quite measure up to that standard, but it’s a weirdly affecting movie that throws narrative expectations out the window. Hotel life has perplexing rituals, procedures, and lessons meant to show it’s better to be in a couple than the alternative. Here, people struggle to find potential partners with the same superficial trait, and when David’s new friend (Ben Whishaw) meets a young woman prone to nosebleeds, he starts secretly injuring his nose so they’ll seem like a match. The film lobs details and concepts at the audience that take seemingly reductive, unsentimental views of human relationships, but provide surprisingly effective metaphors for how people connect — or fail to do so. No tale of a high-concept repressive society would be complete without angry rebels, and the hotel guests periodically hunt “loners” who defy the requirement to partner up (led by a formidable Léa Seydoux from Spectre). They live in the nearby woods, where occasionally a flamingo or camel (clearly former human beings) will wander incongruously by. It’s here that David meets a potential match (Rachel Weisz), but they face no simple path to togetherness. Weisz conveys the same charming openness that she brings to nearly every role, but serves as an anomaly among The Lobster’s cast, where most of the characters have stilted speech patterns that betray closed-off feelings. (Whether their society made them this way, or they’re an emotionally stunted populace who built a society to mirror them, is kind of a chicken-or-the-egg question.) Farrell makes David seem morosely placid, but his still waters run deep. Several times, in sharply different concepts, he has to play-act that he feels nothing when he’s clearly full of turmoil. The Lobster is not an “easy watch,” being almost a full two hours and featuring a broody soundtrack and moments of cruelty to animals and humans alike. Despite its quirks, it fosters the audience’s concern for its characters’ fates, and like the shellfish that gives the film its name, The Lobster contains some real treats beneath its forbidding shell.