With its official premiere over a year ago at Cannes, it’s hard to believe I had never heard of The Lobster before a few weeks ago, yet Yorgos Lanthimos’ newest feature film is undoubtedly the most unconventional love story I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
The Lobster is charming, hilarious, and original, yet deeply disturbing. The film follows protagonist David (played by the wonderfully cast Colin Farrell) as he arrives at The Hotel that gives him 45 days to find a new mate, or be turned into an animal of his choice. As far-fetched as the premise is, it absolutely works, and does so for multiple reasons. First, the casting is perfect. In particular, Angeliki Papoulia’s performance as “Heartless Woman” is both hilarious and profoundly unsettling. Upon arrival to The Hotel, each of the singles introduces himself or herself, announcing one distinguishing feature. One man chooses his limp while another woman chooses her smile.
As the audience, we never learn any of their names. In fact, the only character assigned a name in the screenplay is Farrell’s character, David; The rest of the characters have names based on quite literal descriptions, such as “Biscuit Woman” or “Lisping Man” which only serves to reinforce their one-dimensional, caricature-like quality. I find a large degree of irony in the fact that Lanthimos’ dystopian society centers around finding partners and mates, yet everyone seems so detached from the world and from each other.
Even in the hotel breakfast scenes, each of the tables is just large enough for one person and they all face the window. Female guests wear identical dresses. Male guests wear identical suits. It reflects a stifling conformity drowning out all forms of individualism. Even when stating their fear of being turned into animals, the characters seem unaffected. And yet Lanthimos manages to give substantial depth to such seemingly flat characters, leaving us craving backstories and explanations.
The most significant, visible expression of emotion arrives quite far into the film after the psychotic “Heartless Woman” murders David’s brother-turned-dog. His tears offer a much needed catharsis to an audience depraved of feeling. This is the turning point in the film, when we realize David is capable of greater depth and cannot stay in his cold, dispassionate world. He moves on. After escaping one dystopian society, we hope to find another characterized by more sanity. But the community of “loners” David joins proves to be just as absurd as the rest of the world with strict rules against expressions of emotion, namely sexual intimacy. Even the hug between David and the “Loners Leader,” portrayed by French actress Léa Seydoux, seems entirely sterile and out of place resulting in an amusingly awkward moment. This second society focuses entirely on individualism and self-reliance with little character interaction (We’re even treated with some hysterical silent disco dancing scenes!)
The darkly comedic tone is a huge reason behind the film’s success. There is something so endearingly funny about the deadpan delivery of lines and monotone performances. The screenplay itself is pure ingenuity from Weisz’s dominating voiceover of novelesque descriptions to cues for the fast-faced violin motif reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Psycho. The dialogue offers laughably blunt sexual advances and awkward character interactions that give the film its unique charm.
Without giving too much away, the ending in particular had me cringing in my seat wondering whether it was incredibly romantic or ridiculously idiotic or if David actually went through with it at all. But this film is so crazy and quirky that I believe he does. There’s no denying this film leaves questions unanswered. What animal did he turn the “Heartless Woman” into? Or why does David’s society deem it necessary to be coupled in the first place? But perhaps it was Lanthimos’ intention to offer just a glimpse into the curiosities of the world of The Lobster. Whether you love The Lobster or hate it, it’s unquestionably an original and refreshing work.
Written by: Samantha McMenemy