The Lobster

TheLobsterPosterIf you could be transformed into any animal, which would it be? It sounds like a bad question on a dating website, and yet we’ve become more reliant on such quirks in defining relationships and romance. Colin Farrell chooses to be the title animal in “The Lobster,” an absurdist satire that uses a hilariously bizarre, futuristic premise to lampoon the idea of modern love.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director behind “Dogtooth” now working in the English language, imagines a future in which it’s a law to have a romantic partner. Those without one, like David (Farrell) after recently becoming a widower, are sent to an upscale resort hotel and given 45 days to find a match or be transformed into an animal of their choice.

Lanthimos has some fun in subtly revealing the details of this premise, and the film’s deadpan style slowly works its way from raised-eyebrow peculiarities to laugh-out-loud moments of uneasy humor. For instance, David casually drops the detail that his dog is actually his brother who didn’t “make it.” When he arrives at the hotel, his choice to become a lobster has more to do with survival than preference. He envisions a long life span, an ability to swim and an easier chance at mating, and we wonder if David’s not actually trying to make it as a human any longer but simply waiting out the clock.

The details get stranger. Periodically the hotel guests are required to participate in a hunt for “loners,” single people who have rejected the rules of society and now live in the forest. Bagging one nabs you an extra day, and some hotel guests have spent years here as a result. Lanthimos stages these hunts like graceful slow-motion sequences in a Michael Mann film, stylized, operatic and wholly absurd. Guests are also tethered through their belt loops and restricted from masturbating; one who breaks the rule (John C. Reilly) gets his hand shoved in a toaster during breakfast. And only those who share similar characteristics to each other can become couples. One young girl (Jessica Barden) touts that she gets sporadic nosebleeds. David might be interested, but his trait is that he’s shortsighted, so no match.

“The Lobster” works great as a dystopian comedy (without explanation, random elephants or flamingos can be spotted in the background), but it helps that these oddities have parallels to dating in 2016. We give too much weight to superficial character traits, we go to great lengths to remain in love, we assign unnecessary rules and norms on society, and we shun those who can’t find a significant other. Lanthimos approaches these themes with ironic levity, like when the hotel’s manager informs an aspiring couple, “If you cannot solve any problems yourselves, you will be assigned children,” or with shocking poignancy, like the line, “A relationship can’t be built on a lie,” after it’s revealed one member of a couple faked a similar character trait.

Of course we know love is never defined by strict rules. Lanthimos’s deadpan tone, with every character delivering their lines in matter-of-fact, staccato notes (not to mention a score that’s equally terse and arresting), underscores the need to dismantle what he sees as ludicrous institutions.

Love however is something of an act of survival. For as comically bleak as “The Lobster” can be, the romance formed between Farrell and another loner played by Rachel Weisz reaches touching heights. Lanthimos asks if it’s harder to pretend you have feelings or that you don’t, and there’s a push-and-pull between this film’s harder exterior and softer inside. It’s a perfect match.

4 stars



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  1. a hard film to write about, even if you’ve seen it twice (which my bad hearing forced me to do, the second time with a closed-captioning device), so better you than me on this one, brian * what’s reassuring though is you’ve found THE LOBSTER such a valuable experience even without–arguably–having cracked its “secret” code * “lampooning” modern love? * i don’t think so–else what to make of the ending, where the “rules of the game” are plainly still in force? * rather than dismissing specific points of human attraction (except it’s not really about “attraction” at all) as “shallow,” the movie seems more of the opinion that ANYTHING can work, as a “valid” point of attachment, so long as it results the kind of “devotion” the farrell character displays: heroic, absurd, horrifying–in fact, all of this at once * i guess i’m trying to get away from a single-point reduction, as in “sister mary ignatius explains it all to you,” the old christopher durang stage farce, for something more ambiguous and elusive, less easily summed up * because there IS no summing up , just the “masterly” (albeit flawed) work itself, which is many many things, if none of them specifically * quite somber, in fact, which the distancing device of laughter–more schadenfreude than irony, i think–does little to paper over * though yes, there is that laughter, ultimately of a fairly rueful sort …

    so i guess “quality,” whatever that means, will out, even when it leaves us all at sea, flailing at the waves …

    incidentally, what no reviewer–that i know of anyway, which doesn’t say a lot–has so far bothered to mention is the (possible) thematic connection between THE LOBSTER and truffaut’s old FAHRENHEIT 451 * here it’s “modern love” as fugitive, there “freedom of expression” under assault, with a copy of MAD magazine burning atop a pile of confiscated books intended to suggest the double-edged nature of the beast * talk about absurdity … or schadenfreude!


    • My thought with the ending is its a (tragic) comment on the lengths we end up going to for love. The rules of this dystopia are still in tact, but it doesn’t mean that in today’s society we would do any less (figuratively speaking) for attachment and connection. I think him and the Ben Whishaw character both embody a type of person willing to go to these lengths because this is what we believe love is or what love looks like, and it’s fitting that the end should be so disturbing, even if they will get to remain together.
      I’ll have to see Fahrenheit 451.


  2. arguably the lengths they go has nothing to do with “love” (scare quotes NOT optional, as we’ve no idea what the word ought to imply), since the alternative is to be turned into your animal of choice, which presumably nobody wants to see happen * so it’s “love” under duress–“under the gun,” so to speak–and at least as a point of common law (in our society, anyway) decisions made in a semi-coerced state will have zero validity in terms of legal enforcement * so there’s always that, and whatever “love” there is can’t be disinterested–you HAVE to “love,” or at least connect with someone, otherwise it’s all over for you * and yet we have farrell’s character, who’s able to find heroism in a decision he’s almost literally “forced” into in order to satisfy these dire (and automatically “corrupting”) societal demands * in other words, that “heroism,” embodied as his commitment to someone else, remains a possibility despite everything that will presumably be working against it * unfortunately the “final” resolution isn’t so easy to parse out: is he dead? can’t he find his way out of the bathroom? have emergency personnel carted him off to a hospital or worse? * in other words, all this “heroism” under pressure may ultimately have been for naught …

    obviously it’s complicated, and i’m not sure there’s a way out of the complication for the viewer, aside from experiencing it vicariously yourself, to get a sense of what it’s like * incidentally, and not to go all infantile on you, brian, but my own choice of animal double would probably be an avocet, a very skinny shorebird with a decurved (as in upturned) bill * which arguably is an improvement on the wolverine, my animal of choice when i was 30 or 40 years younger than i am now: i still remember (or think i do) the one at the lincoln park zoo gnawing at the bars of its cage: “gotta get me outa here!”–that’s the spirit, my nasty, antisocial little friend …


  3. o no, not mike ditka!! … just what we need, another pitchman for geriatric hearing aids!


  4. Jen Kudrapali July 2, 2017 — 2:25 AM

    Well first I love dystopian and second – indie films. ❤ Will surely force my fiance to watch this with me.


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