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Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly
In the near future, by order of The City law, all single people are sent to The Hotel where they must find a romantic partner or else undergo a secret process that will transform them into an animal of their choosing. So when David (Colin Farrell) get dumped by his girlfriend, he checks in with is pet dog, who he says is actually his brother, and undergoes a blisteringly personal interview that confounds us but not him. We follow along and soon get the idea that David has failed to find love and therefore will be committed to the program. At The Hotel, guests are treated well, given generic clothing, served quality food, and are instructed on many basic relationship etiquette, all of which feel slightly off, including a demonstration on the dangers of being single (two are always better against one if attacked). At the onset, David is asked, if he can’t find a partner, which animal he would like to be. You already know his answer.
David settles in and meets a few of the other guests, though that’s really the wrong word for them. One day they go on a hunting trip and stun gun people running through the woods, collecting their unconscious bodies. We remain unsure of what’s really going on for some time until we enter The Woods, where we meet a woman only referred to as the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) who is also the film’s purposefully drab and awkward narrator. The people in the woods are the sworn enemy of the The Hotel, taking a stance against the tyranny of forced relationships by living in nature and taking an oath to avoid being with anyone. The ‘Loners’ are led by the nameless Léa Seydoux, in a truly frightening role, whose very insinuating gaze is devastating. Nonetheless, David and the Short Sighted Woman are physically drawn to each other, and there is no stopping that union. It’s a world in chaos.
Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, in his English-language film debut, The Lobster is a peculiar journey, at times recalling others in this rather specific self-reflective hospitalized genre from the equally quirky but far less dark The Road To Wellville (1994) to the less bitter but greatly satisfying Defending Your Life (1991). Lanthimos takes us on a journey that is not at all what might be expected and your enjoyment of that will depend entirely on how willing you are to accept the universe these character survive in. I say survive because that is essentially what they are intended to do, each in three distinct worlds. The Hotel and The Woods have been mentioned, but there is also The City, which is seen the briefest yet adds a startling look beyond the two polar ends we’ve already explored. Here is where the couples live, all under rigorous supervision. David and the Short Sight Woman venture to The City, holding hands, masquerading as lovers in a foreign world, the utopia as it were. For a moment, they are separated as she leaves him alone and it is almost immediately after where he is accosted by uniformed authorities inquiring as to his relationship status and the proper documents to prove it. It’s a scathing look at the often unnoticed but ubiquitous pressures of society to be in a relationship, from marketing to holidays, and even while the scene is played out seriously, there is a dark satire to it and reminiscent of early Woody Allen without the self-depreciation.
Farrell is at his best here, transforming himself into a lumpy, pasty blob that is wholly invested into Lanthimos’ world. He sits unchallenging to the rules of The Hotel, moving mostly unexpressive through it. There is a chilling moment when a women with only days to go can’t seduce anyone to her side, so makes a horrifying choice and David’s reaction is not just a character trait, it is reflection on the cold, visceral attitude of societies ever-growing self-serving attitude. It lingers long after.
Not all of it works however. Moments in The Hotel are sometimes hard to believe, despite the commitment of the cast, and we spend too much time in The Woods with most of its absurdity so drenched in metaphor it’s difficult to accept. There are jarring moments to be sure, and the conclusions we are asked to make can be hurdles in simply trying to follow the story. That said, it is an experience to be seen and felt. By the time the startling final shot comes you can’t help but think about your own choices and submissions in the pursuit of the romantic fairy tale we all are told to chase. The Lobster has much to say and defies convention in saying it, but if you listen carefully, this is a story about much more than it appears.