“Now, have you thought of what animal you’d like to be if you end up alone?” asks the proprietor of a luxury hotel (Broadchurch‘s Olivia Colman), where guests get forty-five days to find a romantic partner or face transformation into an animal of their choice. “Yes. A lobster,” answers David impassionately. Sympathetically played by Colin Farrell, David’s the spitting image of Homer Simpson’s cheerful neighbor Ned Flanders, only paunchier and a lot more depressed. “Why a lobster?” “Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.” “A lobster is an excellent choice.”
The Hotel Manager also reassures David that failing to fall in love with someone during his stay should not upset him. As an animal, after all, he will have a second chance to find a companion. But he must be careful to ensure the pairing is a harmonious one. Unlike a wolf and a penguin, or a camel and a hippopotamus. “That would be absurd.”
Ding, ding, ding. That’s The Lobster in a nutshell, a dystopian satire of human relationships that’s way out there, populated by strange characters in even stranger situations and, at least for the first of its two hours, entertainingly so. The deadpan, stilted delivery of its dialogue; the string-laden operatics of its music; the whole artsy weirdness of it all—these elements place a clever spin on an already intriguing trashing of coupledom. But the absurdity of Yorgos Lanthimos’ film—he made the absurdist black comedy Dogtooth in 2010 so we might have anticipated something equally outlandish here—eventually outstays its welcome, growing increasingly tiresome in its second act, despite the best intentions of everyone involved.
And this is an excellent cast. Farrell, Colman, Rachel Weisz (who narrates, and plays a short-sighted “Loner” David meets in the woods), Lea Seydoux (leader of these vehemently-single rebels who are hunted for points by the hotel guests), Ben Whishaw (man with a limp), John C. Reilly (man with a lisp), Ashley Jensen, and Michael Smiley.
Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou construct a singular and ambitious vision, rich with symbolism and observant commentary about societal pressures to pair up. Observant, and droll.
“Have you ever been on your own before?” “No, never.” “Your last relationship lasted how many years?” “Around twelve.” “And the dog?” “My brother. He was here a couple of years ago but he didn’t make it.”
Would you rather endure a predictable saga that stays the course, or invest in an unusual film that sadly peters out? The Lobster creates such a vital and inventively odd world that it’s all the more disappointing when it runs out of steam.
(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth