“It’s no coincidence that the targets are shaped like single people, and not couples.”
I’m not quite sure why The Lobster was described as strictly a drama prior to its release (I read more than a few seemingly legitimate sources late last year that described it as such). There are certainly a few heartbreaking moments, and the film does take an unexpected dark turn in the final act, but overall, The Lobster is a dark comedy. Or perhaps “dramedy” is a more accurate label. The overall premise is too silly to be taken seriously no matter how straight-laced and (intentionally) dry the actors played their parts.
In The Lobster we follow David (Colin Farrell) – a somewhat introverted middle-aged architect who’s just been dumped by his lady. This is a problem because he exists in a dystopian society/unintentional reworking of Logan’s Run where humans are required to be in romantic relationships. Being single is not only frowned upon, but if you haven’t found a mate within a certain time frame you’re turned in to an animal (of your choice) by the nameless Orwellian government that controls everything. David is sent off to a sort of “forced dating retreat” in order to find love but instead all he finds are equally desperate people trying not to be turned in to animals (we discover early on that one of David’s family members has been changed into a dog).
The ambiance and color palette of The Lobster is very cold and drab (much like Alps) but what goes on in most of the film is comedy. Dry and twisted comedy but still comedy nonetheless (Lanthimos jokingly blamed the drab color palette on the particular section of Ireland that served as the film’s backdrop, but I thought The Lobster looked almost identical to Alps which was shot in Greece).
After a failed relationship attempt with a cold-hearted women, David eventually finds compatibility in the form of a nameless woman (Rachel Weisz) living with a society of outcasts off in the woods. Problems soon arise for David and the woman as their relationship is forbidden. Will their love prevail, or is their relationship doomed?
Adults sometimes put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to finding love to the point where they become desperate. The motions that some of the characters in The Lobster go through to find a partner is an obvious not-so subtle comment on the idea of speed dating which, in my opinion, is rooted in desperation on some small level. I understand the purpose behind speed dating but the idea that strangers are essentially rushed to meet each other under the setting of a date is a little weird to me (no offense to anyone who found a lasting relationship through speed dating. I certainly don’t want to downplay the positive aspects that can come from it).
I imagine some fans of Dogtooth and Alps are worried about Yorgos Lanthimos making the transition to English-language cinema as it may compromise his style or just not “work” in the vein of Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights or Park Chan Wook’s Stoker (I know those films have their fan-bases, but at the end of the day they were pretty disappointing when compared to the films that came before them). I had my own reservations: John C. Reilly’s presence worried me because he’s starting to become a doofy caricature of himself more and more, which can distract from a film (there were definitely shades of that in The Lobster but Reilly was tolerable overall). But rest-assured that Lanthimos’ dry semi-surreal fucked-up humor is all over The Lobster. In one scene we see a donkey get shot in the head execution style and we’re supposed to find it funny. In another scene David kicks a little girl in the shin. And like with all of his films, there’s plenty of goofy, awkward dancing (I’m still not certain if Yorgos played up his particular style a little bit now that he has a larger audience).
I asked Yorgos Lanthimos if he looked at The Lobster as an extension of Alps (I feel like both stories exist in the same cinematic universe). While he doesn’t share my spectrum-brained fascination with connecting every movie in existence, he did acknowledge that there are quite a few similarities between both films. With The Lobster, Lanthinos continues to explore themes concerning identity (Alps) and the false meanings we sometimes put on things (Dogtooth). Dogtooth and Alps fans should also find comfort in the fact that Yorgos regulars Ariane Labed and Angeliki Papoulia shine in their supporting roles (not to take anything away from Farrell, Weisz and Ben Winshaw as they all give solid performances as well).
This feels like is a natural progression for Yorgos Lanthimos. No matter how many similarities there are to his previous work, he’s still trying his hand at a completely new genre (science fiction) and exploring new ways to tell a story (this is his first film to use both voice-over narration and a traditional film score). And for an Orwellian science fiction film, I though it was cool that he embraced nature instead of storm troopers, claustrophobic settings & pretentious-looking modern architecture (basically…he didn’t try to copy Terry Gilliam’s Brazil like so many others have in the past).
The Lobster may not be for everyone but if you’re a fan of the aforementioned films like Dogtooth and Alps (along with obscure Monty Python sketches or Rick Alverson’s The Comedy), want to see Colin Farrell step outside of his comfort zone, and appreciate dark and subtly quirky humor – then I highly recommend The Lobster.
The Lobster is playing at The Philadelphia Film Festival.