Its jet-black sense of humour and definitively European sensibilities means that the film won’t translate to ‘Hollywood’ audiences, existing in its own surreal bubble of dark moments and blasé shocks. It’s likely to be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of deal for those who venture to see it.
‘The Lobster’ uses cuttingly dark satire and modernist surrealism to probe sharply into an age-old obsession: the search for love. In the film’s bleakly dystopian near-future, single people are arrested and imprisoned in ‘The Hotel’, where they have 45 days to fall in love or be turned into an animal of their choice.
The Hotel is laden with an erratic selection of potential partners, and couples are matched by their ‘defining characteristics’ (today’s dating websites and apps certainly come to mind). Olivia Colman is brilliantly detached as the Hotel’s manager, and Ben Whishaw’s ‘Limping Man’ is easily one of the funniest guests; with comedic timing that is on point, he delivers some of the best lines in the film (his casual ‘this is our new daughter’ induced the biggest laugh from the audience). Colin Farrell, too, is charmingly robotic and effortlessly entertaining as the film’s lead, managing to avoid the trap of bringing too much emotion or bewilderment to the part, instead allowing his character to simply accept his fate and put up little to no resistance, as his dwindling days left as a human are monosyllabically counted away by his alarm clock.
The futuristic nature of the story is contrasted nicely with the old-fashioned, very British red-carpeted corridors of the hotel setting in which the first half of the story takes place (actually filmed in Kerry, Ireland). Avant-garde camera angles and shadowy, naturalistic lighting make for some lusciously layered cinematography, showed off best in the scenes that take place in the baron, rain-soaked woods which are populated by a poncho-clad band of ‘Loners’ and the wandering camels, pigs and flamingos that didn’t make it.
The rules of the film’s dystopia are seamlessly established and implicated without the need of excessive exposition. This is impressive for a world that is so dense and meandering in its basis and characters’ idiosyncrasies, but we quickly adapt to its rhythm as smoothly as the new visitors to the Hotel do. This is helped by Rachel Weisz’s deadpan narration which leads us nicely into the second half of the film, and although a love story develops, it’s still as wildly unconventional and oddball as the story that precedes it, with Weisz and Farrell communicating through limb-based code and being drawn to each other largely because of their shared short-sightedness. As love between the Loners is strictly forbidden (a rule fiercely enforced by a cool Léa Seydoux and stony Michael Smiley, both excellent), they are forced to disband, leading to a slightly rushed escape to ‘The City’ and a fittingly blunt ending.
What the film says about love, relationships and staying single is open to audience interpretation, although the film is pretty overt in its satire, with the cold, clinical detachment of the forced couplings and brutal savagery of remaining single (the Loners literally have to ‘dig their own graves’) both looking like pretty dire options. If it weren’t for the film’s brilliant, self-aware sense of humour it’s likely that we would exit the screening feeling pretty melancholic, but the balance of wit and cynicism, light and dark, is just right, and in fact I left the screening with a massive smile on my face and a desire to seek out all of writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous work.