Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content including Dialogue, and some Violence
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by: Efthymis Filippou & Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, Michael Smiley & Ben Whishaw
After receiving praise and notoriety for DOGTOOTH and ALPS, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has finally made his English-language debut and it’s a love story unlike any other. Throwing pitch-black satire about the modern dating scene, a disturbing dystopian future, and a truly oddball romance into one cinematic blender, THE LOBSTER is haunting, funny, and beautiful all at the same time. It’s almost impossible to properly categorize this film under one genre, because it effortlessly ventures into shocking and wholly unexpected places.
In the not too distant future, people live in a place simply known as the City. The City is populated by happy couples, while single people are shipped away to a foreboding place simply known as the Hotel. At the Hotel, single people are given 45 days to fall in love. If they fail to find a significant other within that length of time, these unlucky single folks are turned into an animal of their choice. Yes, you read that correctly. Hotel activities consist of harsh rules, forced date activities, skits about the dangers of being single, and daily hunts wherein Hotel guests tranquillize Loners (single escapees living in the forest) for extra days. David (Colin Farrell) has just arrived at the Hotel. This recent divorcee has a 45 days to find romance or he will be turned into a lobster. Unexpectedly, he begins to find love in a most dangerous way.
The story’s dystopian setting is deliberately vague and director Lanthimos reveals aspects of this society through small creative details that poke out in every scene. Rachel Weisz somewhat guides the viewer along through voice-over narration and provides context as well as brilliant bits of humor. Lanthimos creepily introduces the frightening elements of this story through a suggestive less-is-more approach. We don’t need to see the inside of the “Transformation Room,” because one character’s description of the process is gruesome enough for us to imagine its interior. Also, LOBSTER’s disturbing moments (there are a few) pack a ton emotional impact, because they make complete sense in the context of this already absurd film.
As David, Colin Farrell plays a geeky, lonely protagonist unlike any I’ve seen him tackle before. Though he’s only handed a pair of glasses, a thick moustache and blandly colored clothes, Farrell disappears into the role of this strange main character. I won’t say that David is someone who’s entirely worthy of our sympathies, but nobody in this film fully shines as a morally “good” character. Instead, they’re all deeply flawed individuals who each have serious baggage attached to them. Rachel Weisz plays Short Sighted Woman, who begins a beautiful romance with David, even though it’s forbidden by the forest-dwelling society of Loners. The chemistry between Farrell and Weisz works flawlessly as their characters naturally play off of each other and I deeply cared about what might eventually happen to them, especially as the stakes gradually became higher as the story went along.
On the sidelines are John C. Reilly as Lisping Man and Ben Whishaw as Limping Man, both of whom deliver some dry comic relief and disturbing moments in equal measure. The punishment for masturbation (self-pleasure is forbidden in the Hotel) is especially dark and so are the lengths that Limping Man goes to in order to force himself into a relationship. Olivia Colman is a formidable antagonist as the uptight Hotel Manager, whose first on-screen appearance includes locking a guest’s hand behind his back for an extreme demonstration about the dangers of being single. Michael Smiley and (especially!) Lea Seydoux both shine as the intimidating Loner leaders, while Ariane Labed receives a brief memorable role as the Hotel Maid and Angeliki Papoulia is intense as the appropriately named Heartless Woman.
THE LOBSTER is impressive in never letting its humor drown out the more serious aspects of this darkly inventive satire. The plot constantly moves into interesting new places, making this one of the strangest and most original romances I’ve ever seen. The gloomy atmosphere, stark dialogue, and grim sensibilities may turn off viewers who want something a bit more upbeat and cheerful, but THE LOBSTER remains a beautiful work of art flourishing in its dark weirdness. I’ve described THE LOBSTER as best I can, but may not have done an adequate job…mainly because I feel this film is damn near indescribable in its humor, creativity, beauty, and sheer brilliance. It’s definitely not a movie that will appeal to everyone, but I’d still urge you to give it a shot. Love it or hate it, you definitely won’t ever forget it. I very much fall on the “love it” side of the fence. THE LOBSTER is one of the best films of 2016!