The plot of The Lobster is summarized on imdb.com with one terrifying sentence: "In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods."
Being turned into an animal is a particular fear of mine, and reading that description made me genuinely afraid to see this movie. Last summer, I fell asleep to Kevin Smith's horror film, Tusk, about a kidnapped podcaster (I have still never seen it in its entirety). That night, and many nights since, Justin Long's grotesque transformation into a walrus has weaved its way in and out of my dreams in an unpleasant way. To be a lobster, trapped under the lonely weight of the ocean, with black slimy eyes and claws where my hands should be, sounds like a fate worse than death. But as it turns out, my fears were (mostly) unwarranted, because The Lobster is (sort of) a comedy.
This is the first English language feature from Greek writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos. His 2009 movie Dogtooth earned an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film and by all accounts seems to share an equally batshit premise.
The Lobster stars Colin Farrell as David, who begins his stay at "The Hotel" with his brother (a collie), after his wife leaves him. It's a lot of fun watching David learn the culture of this strange, polite dystopia at the same time we do. The Hotel staff enforces terrifying rules with European politeness. For example, when a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly) breaks the "no masturbation" policy, they bring a toaster to his breakfast table and make him stick his hand inside.
Hotel guests are defined by their eccentricities and expected to find a match with similar quirks. David is short-sighted, his friend has a limp, there's a girl with a nosebleed, a German woman is marked by cruel indifference, and so on. The men and women circle around each other like shy teenagers at a school dance. There must be something wrong with them if they can't find suitable matches on their own in The City, after all.
Beyond the walls of The Hotel, a group of escaped guests called The Loners have formed their own society in The Woods. Living with The Loners means no dating, a rule enforced by their cruel dictator (Léa Seydoux) with shrewd efficiency. Rachel Weisz plays "The Short-Sighted Woman" who gets all the men to catch her rabbits using a wile that borders dangerously on breaking the rules.
The consequences are dire, yet these characters speak with a droll, hilarious resignation that undercuts the horror just enough to make it palatable. Farrell's portrayal of David in particular is nothing short of comedic genius. He's a nice person, but he's not a pushover or a blank slate, and it's a pleasure to see the way he improvises in a series of trying situations.
At its core, The Lobster is a satire on human attraction and the societal norms we foist on the institution of coupling. Yet there are so many other ideas and bizarre happenings floating around it's hard to know what conclusions to come to by the end. That's not a criticism. If anything, the mystery makes you want to watch the film again and again until you get it. Claws down, The Lobster is the weirdest movie I've seen this year.
The Lobster opens at the Roxy Fri., June 10.