Find A Mate - Or Become The Lobster?
Imagine a world where people of a certain age were required to have life partners, and those who didn't succeed had bleak choices awaiting them. The Lobster is set in a dystopian society called The City, where a teacher named David (Colin Farrell) gets sent to a place called The Hotel, where rules are strict, and failure to find love has dire consequences. David knows this, as his brother became a dog, and has come with David. The manager (Olivia Colman) explains the rules, and asks David what animal he'd like to become. He opts for a lobster, who can live for 100 years if it doesn't become dinner. He soon makes the acquaintance of Robert (John C. Reilly), who talks with a lisp, and John (Ben Whishaw), who walks with a limp.
These men take three different paths during their stay. John, in order to have something in common with a woman who suffers from nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), finds a way to create his own nosebleeds. The move succeeds, as the couple gets reassigned to new quarters to build on their compatibility. The others can get an extension on their stay if they capture enough loners, who have escaped The Hotel and survive in the nearby woods. After turning down the advances of a desperate woman who loves biscuits (Ashley Jensen), an equally desperate David gets the attention of a heartless woman (Angelika Papoulia), who has had a record stay at The Hotel. She shows her heartless trait by killing David's dog and attempting to expose him as a mismatch. However, The Hotel's Maid (Ariane Labed) comes at an opportune moment, which sends the heartless woman to the transformation room, and David into the woods with the other loners There, he meets the Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) and a Nearsighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), who develops a romantic connection with David. The woods have their rules as well, though.
The Lobster takes a look at societal demands taken to an extreme. The film marks the English language debut feature of Greek director and co-writer Yorgos Lanthimos. It's an interesting look at the lack of value humans tend to show toward one another. They only have slightly more value if they conform to the expectations of The City. The people themselves often go through the process of finding a mate (or not) with a lack of passion. Although some have described The Lobster as having elements of dark comedy and romantic comedy, I found the comedy to be sporadic. Some of the interactions David has give the movie some charm and humanity, but I cared as little for most of these characters as the charcters themselves seemed to feel. The Lobster reminded me of another dystopian film, Never Let Me Go, where young adults go through their whole lives sequestered and literally required to give of themselves. In both films, virtually nobody stands up to leadership, though standing up and fighting seems something someone could have done easily. The Lobster also commits the sin of dragging, as the movie felt longer than its actual running time.
The movie is not devoid of good acting, though. Farrell is good as a man who wants a long life, preferably one on two legs. David wants to belong, but on his terms, not his society's. The woods gives him a chance to truly live without The City's guidelines. Weisz brings the greatest measure of humanity as the unnamed nearsighted woman who enjoys covert trips into The City with David. Their romantic interest has to be the bigger secret, though, as they develop a system that helps. Reilly has some good moments as Robert, who desperately wants to remain a human, yet not lose his humanity in the process. Seydoux is a cold loner leader who requires that certain standards be strictly maintained, and even forces David to dig his own grave once he's been integrated into the society she upholds in the woods. Colman is the epitome of bureaucracy as the Hotel manager, always enforcing policy, yet complimenting David and the other guests on the choices that they make regarding conversion.
The Lobster does create a convincing dystopian society. The problem is that it creates such a society all too well. The characters often don't care what happens to them, and for the most part, neither did I. That, in spite of any intent, is the dilemma that faces The Lobster and films like it. Some people will embrace the message of dehumanization in real day-to-day situations. As I reflect upon the film, I wonder why the people at the Hotel didn't think of their situation and commit to a form of betrothal. Couples have things in common, but accept the many other things they don't have in common. Betrothal brings arrangement with the chance to care and grow close to each other over time. That, in Lanthimos's City and Hotel, certainly beats the alternatives.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Lobster two stars. A crustacean in tepid water, never even reaching a slow boil.