Until comparatively recently, I would have been a monkey. I think a monkey would have suited me well in Yorgos Lanthimos’ world. Wide eyed, cheeky, unkempt hair; the perfect animal equivalent as I accepted my unacceptable fate of being single. Lanthimos’ The Lobster is a wild and wonderful look at the societal pressures of being partnered up, the impacts it has on us all and the lengths to which some will go to adhere to these pressures – and also resist them.
In The Lobster being single is outlawed. Anyone living alone – whether through choice or circumstance such as the death of a partner – is called to The Hotel, a lodging house for the broken or empty hearted, as it were, where they are given 45 days to find love or they will be transformed into an animal. An animal of their choosing, but an animal nonetheless. Such is their well acknowledged and accepted punishment for not being able to find a partner. The animal is then released into The Woods, also inhabited by The Loners, those who have defied the law and live a nomadic life, evading tranquilisation as The Hotel’s residents seek to add days onto their single sentence by capturing them.
The premise is so surreal it almost becomes feasible. Its delivery so deadpan that its horror is almost entirely masked in humour, admittedly of the blackest kind, until moments of hands-over-face fear snap us back into action and this cruel reality that has befallen these poor souls.
We join David (Colin Farrell on superb form) as he checks into The Hotel. Blithely completing the registration questions, collecting his standardised uniform and meeting his fellow singletons, all defined by their characteristics – we have Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Lisping Man (John C Reilly), Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen).
Love is defined by our matches – likes, dislikes, appearances, physical abilities – you meet a match, you match, if there’s no match you must part and get back in the field. David is short sighted and so therein lies his homing characteristic for him to find his person or accept his transformation into a lobster – his animal of choice. After all, you can’t fake a match.
Teaching the residents the joys of love and safety of coupling up to hilarious yet disturbing effect through role play, The Hotel’s training programme becomes almost Pavlovian. Olivia Coleman is the cold-hearted Hotel Manager, presiding over the residents’ sentences with a steely gaze and a soft shimmy as the croons her way through the regular dinner dances, delivered according to the copy, paste, repeat template.
As his days deplete, David decides to make a break for it and escape into The Woods to find The Loners, led by the beautiful but hardened Lea Seydoux. What circumstance brought her here? Almost as cold as the Hotel Manager, she leads over the escapees with not only an iron fist but an iron heart, punishing those who dare feel for another. Choose to love or choose not to love – it’s this bilateral approach to relationships that make The Lobster all the more terrifying a place to live. The heart is an erratic muscle, it can’t be controlled by rule, but by experience, so when David meets and falls for Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) the system is disrupted and for thus placing David and Short Sighted Woman in unfathomable danger.
The Lobster is a daring story of the most heartbreaking kind of love, where love is not just desired but essential for life. Or at least life as a human. A dark and whimsical, provocative and terrifying film that drops a pointed thought in your mind and in your heart. What would you rather be? In love because you have to be? Or forbidden from love in defiance? Pick a side or pick an animal.
The Lobster is now showing on general release.