You wait for one comedy about men being transformed into animals then two come along at once — a non-mating pair, if you will.
But where Kevin Smith’s Tusk was about a vicious comic forcibly losing his humanity due to a mad experiment, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is altogether more social and universal.
The film opens with an unidentified woman (Jacqueline Abrahams) drawing up to a rainy, gorse-laden field in a jeep and summarily executing a donkey, an act which seems somewhat less inexplicable when the rules of this world are made clear.
The film takes place in a contemporary reality where all singles are sent to an upmarket country resort. After check-in you are given 45 days to find a mate else be transformed into an animal or your choosing — and, before you ask, there’s no bisexual option.
David (Colin Farrell), our schlubby, disinterested protagonist, has chosen, for reasons of fertility, life expectancy, and swimming, to become a lobster. His new cohorts — a limping, buzz-cut Ben Whishaw and lisping John C. Reilly — have their own approaches and obstacles with regards to the problem at hand. The former’s involves head-butting sideboards; the latter’s is impeded by an incident involving a toaster. All conversation is awkward, stilted, halting and matter-of-fact.
The hotel’s smouldering maid performs daily frottage duties — “That was horrible”, David says, semi-believably — but there’s no sense of passion or intimacy to the seminar-style proceedings.
It’s only when he’s out in the woods among the Loners that David is ironically able to make a human connection, with the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). A mercenary arrangement between them — she stabs a man for him, he brings her rabbits — quickly develops into a romantic entanglement, even as the militant Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux) strictly reinforces the strictly platonic status quo.
Juxtaposing the two states of affairs, The Lobster shows the tyranny of both orthodoxy and extremism; any system that requires you act a certain way. It just so happens that the punishment here is both humane and inhuman.
Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography turns the earthy Irish landscape into a remote, lucid dream where hotel guests pursue each other through the woods with tranq guns, desperate to bag themselves an extra day, and Loners dig their own graves in preparation for the inevitable day.
The Lobster has a crucial point to make about compatibility as codependency — Farrell fakes a sadistic streak in order to shack up with the predatory Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) — which comes through scenes of comedy — there’s a wonderfully subtle diegetic music gag — and often upsetting tragicomedy, including animal cruelty and a horribly protracted suicide.
The strong British cast, which includes Olivia Colman as the hotel’s brusquely sympathetic manager and Michael Smiley as an ambiguously sighted Loner, gives the film a definite European vibe. The Lobster, as with Lathimos’ previous social satires, Dogtooth and Alps, owes a debt to the self-contained absurdity of Luis Buñuel (though Weisz’s repeated narration, occasionally overlapping the same conversation it’s recounting, strangely brought to mind Jon Ronson).
Given what precedes it, though, the film’s bizarre, affectionate “love is (the willingness to go) blind”, while certainly a good ending, doesn’t necessarily feel like the right ending.
As unconventional rom-coms go, The Lobster is an absolute blinder — as a rhythmic meditation on love and loneliness, it might even provoke you to reconsider your current relationship status. Still, given the central premise, perhaps there should have been a pair of ragged claws.