One of the most extraordinary and original movie experiences of the year, The Lobster, the English-language debut of Yorgos (Dogtooth, Alps) Lanthimos is almost entirely without precedent in its downright weirdness. The closest we can find to anything remotely resembling a companion piece is last year’s stark, troubling Under the Skin; they’re two totally different films in almost every way and yet both share a wilful determination to confound and even confuse their audiences with their sense of disquieting other-worldliness and their refusal to even entertain the very idea of playing by the normal rules of contemporary movie-making. And like Under the Skin, The Lobster stumbles under the weight of its own pretensions and falls short of true greatness.
We’re in a skewed, almost-dystopian future or possibly some alternate world – your guess is as good as ours – and being single isn’t just frowned upon, it’s positively illegal. Inhabitants of ‘The City’ are taken to ‘The Hotel’, an awful 1970s Fawlty Towers-type establishment where guests have forty-five days to team up and become a ‘couple’ with a fellow singleton. If they don’t hook up, they are turned into an animal of their own choice. Colin Farrell’s David (the only character given a proper identity – everyone else labours under names such as Limping Man, Lisping Man, Biscuit Woman), whose wife died a few days earlier, turns up at the hotel with his brother, turned into a dog following an earlier romantic failure-to-couple, looking for a new love. But not everyone wants to be part of a couple; out in the woods live ‘loners’, outlaws determined to avoid romance and attachment at all cost. The hotel residents can extend their stay in The Hotel by hunting ‘loners’ and paralyzing them with stun rifles.
The Lobster is a bit of everything. At times it’s hilarious, especially in its first half-hour or so, sometimes it’s deeply disturbing and occasionally thought-provoking. The Hotel sequences – Olivia Coleman is brilliant as the implacable Hotel Manager – are surreal sometimes verging on farce. This is a world in which everyone seems to hide their emotions, speaking in clipped, awkward monotones, stating and restating the obvious (Rachel Weisz’s voiceover is equally matter-of-fact) and no-one has a sense of humour. Farrell, sporting a commendable paunch, is a revelation as David, a creature with a bit of instinct in a world of horrible conformity, and as his stay in the Hotel wears on – his attempt to pair with the Heartless Woman veers from high comedy to horror on the turn of the proverbial dime – he becomes quietly more determined to avoid becoming his animal of choice – the titular lobster.
The film loses its momentum and its point when David escapes the Hotel and joins the loners. His growing romance with Short-Sighted Woman (Weisz) tends to subvert the whole point of the first half of the film – society’s obsession with everyone pairing up and becoming part of a couple – and ultimately the satire fizzles out because the point’s been made and there’s nowhere else to go and nothing else to be said. But certainly for its first hour or so, The Lobster is an extraordinary piece of work, amusing and unnerving in equal measure and whilst, like the crustacean which gives it its name, it won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s undeniably one of the more visionary and imaginative films of the year, a genuinely different and virtually unclassifiable movie experience. It’s a flawed work of art we can recommend almost unconditionally.
THE LOBSTER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: YORGOS LANTHIMOS / SCREENPLAY: EFTHIMIS FILLIPOU, YORGOS LANTHIMOS / STARRING: COLIN FARRELL, RACHEL WEISZ, OLIVIA COLEMAN, ASHLEY JENSEN, JESSICA BARDEN, THOMAS C. REILLY, BEN WHISHAW / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10