Deliciously weird, satirically funny and dreamlike — bad dreamlike — “The Lobster” is the sort of visionary film that can be created only by a great provocateur.
It’s a dark, futuristic comic sex satire that completely subverts everything you expect from any of those angles. This is a story of people behaving like robots because they have been taught to behave like robots.
Colin Farrell is a master class on deadpan hilarity as David, the sad-sack protagonist. David is a tubby loser who at the film’s opening is being tossed out of his relationship because his wife has found a more desirable man. Farrell’s performance is as lifeless as a marionette, but in the most hilarious way possible.
Let me repeat, this is overweight, badly mustachioed Colin Farrell, looking as down at being dumped as “The Odd Couple’s” Felix Unger, so you understand this is a surreal film from the beginning. David is transferred to the depressing seaside hotel where, in this science fiction society, singles have 45 days to find someone willing to love you and be loved in return. If you don’t, you will be transformed into the animal of your choice.
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People try to link up with someone, young or old (whatever sex is preferred), who shares with them a physical deficit or some limited social point of view. They can postpone their conversion by joining a forest hunting squad to track down those who have bolted from the hotel to live in the wild, the Loners.
David’s brother, who was unlucky in finding love, asked to become a dog because most people like dogs and that would be his last chance to experience human affection. Myopic David and two new acquaintances, the limping man (Ben Whishaw) and the lisping man (John C. Reilly), follow a daily humdrum of isolated breakfasts, overformal lectures from the hotel’s married executives and agonizing dances with the women. The limping man is disappointed to learn that a hobbling candidate has only a sprained ankle. It feels like dystopian speed dating.
If David, who is fond of shellfish, doesn’t quickly find his soul mate, he will probably be steamed, cracked at the shell and dipped in drawn butter. Instead, after failing to negotiate a relationship, he runs for the woods, where the singletons include a shortsighted woman with a rare capacity for kindness, acceptance and passion. Unfortunately for David, the group is policed by icy Lea Seydoux, whose rules against the natural processes of flirting and romance are as intricately repressive as the control freaks at the dreary inn down the road.
This is the first English language feature by the freethinking Greek absurdist Yorgos Lanthimos, a foreign-language Oscar nominee. He has a smooth filmmaking style and an offbeat sense of humor that favors stone-faced, bland-spoken absurdity.
This is a comedy, but a freezing cold, bone-dry comedy. Lanthimos attacks hypocrisies in the way you might see if an impish Wallace and Gromit movie were made by Franz Kafka and Salvador Dali in a kinky mood. People can end up mutilated in his movies, but ironically. He’s not nasty but fondly caustic of our species. He doesn’t call for the thumbing of the nose at authority, but cutting off authority’s nose with a linoleum knife.
This kind of art is not on many people’s wavelength, but those who connect with it will remember it 20, 30, 40 years later. It’s weird to use a term of affection about a movie that traffics in socially ruined connections, but I love this film.
☆☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, John C. Reilly.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Running time: 1:58.
Rated: R, for sexual content, including dialogue and some violence.