Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
When I walked up the stairs to my unique, upstairs independent movie theater, and approached the box office to purchase a ticket to see Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, The Lobster. As I waited in line, the couple in front of me bought tickets for the same, and I overheard the theater attendant asking the couple whether they were “ready” for The Lobster experience. I grinned a little bit and then approached myself. He didn’t say anything to me until I was almost ready to walk off to the concession stand, at which point he commented that it was funny seeing people exiting the theater after the film, given the varied reactions to this strange film. Having seen Lanthimos’ previous film, Dogtooth, I managed to ease his worries by telling him that I managed to enjoy Dogtooth, so I felt confident I was “ready” for The Lobster experience, because this is not a film for the faint of heart, or those expecting the next Colin Farrell or Rachel Weisz movie. This is the next Yorgos Lanthimos movie.
Set in an alternate world where companionship is everything, The Lobster finds recently divorced David (Colin Farrell) checking into a hotel where the objective of the experience is to find a partner in 45 days, or find yourself being turned into an animal of your choosing. David checks in with his brother, who is now a dog, and soon finds friends in a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly) and a man with a limp (Ben Whishaw). Each tries to court eligible guests to varying success until David meets a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) among a rogue group of loners lead by a cold woman (Lea Seydoux). As the rules of dating, companionship and love begin to be broken down by David, the stakes seem heightened to the point of an uncomfortable threat.
Yorgos Lanthimos, with The Lobster, has crafted such an “on-the-nose” interpretation of the current state of romance and relationships that the oddity of the film is not in its “alternate” world, as I called it earlier, but rather just how realistic the world manages to be while also incorporating this unimaginable scenario where people are turned into animals when and if they fail to make a match. I will be the first to admit that I got extremely lucky in finding my match, but many others must first pass through the rigors of the dating world and everything that is single-shaming. Even a film released earlier this year, How to Be Single, tries to answer its title mission statement by having its lead characters endlessly pursue the companionship of a male counterpart. In today’s culture, there is certainly some degree of a twisted dichotomy between relishing the freedom of single life and also shaming those who have, to this point in their lives, “failed” at love.
In The Lobster, Lanthimos is not really creating new phenomenon, but rather dialing up the existing ones to 11, crafting a heightened sense of love and courtship wherein characters are terrified of what might happen to them should they remain single. In doing so, Lanthimos is able to present hilarious and heartbreaking scenes where it is quite easy to laugh at how absurd things are, but also to reflect on the certain truths contained within. For example, the hotel puts on a demonstration of a man eating by himself versus a man eating with a companion. When the man begins to choke, there is no one there to save him when he chokes, but with a companion he is saved. How absurd. But is it really? There is a certain truth behind the absurdity that the man would likely die with no one there to help him. In this manner, and many other examples throughout the film, Lanthimos is able get away with both sides of the argument. The film is at once mocking and making fun of the certain stigma’s of single life placed on people by society, while also commenting that perhaps love and companionship are necessary requirements for survival.
Having seen Dogtooth, which is probably a more bizarre film than this, I like to think I was prepared for the preposterousness of The Lobster, but I can’t really say how some who have never experienced a Yorgos Lanthimos film would react to this film. I found it to be quite brilliant in its delivery, which is a very dry, almost deadpan delivery of an otherwise ridiculous circumstance. If taken too seriously, which would be easy to do and likely not an incorrect interpretation, the film is likely to terrifying as it remains so close to the harsh realities of dating, single life, and even in its commentary on companionship and marriage. But at the same time, taken simply as a satirical comedy, there are many laughs to be had throughout at the expense of some of the more absurd realities we are faced with every day. Where The Lobster succeeds more than it maybe should, is its ability to stay true to reality while managing to stray very very far away from it.