Movie review: ‘The Lobster’ is a Kafkaesque critique of love, loneliness
If you tossed the eccentric imaginations of David Lynch, Charlie Kaufman and Franz Kafka into a boiling pot of water, something like “The Lobster” would emerge. It’s a murky soup of commentary and ideas about modern love and loneliness presented in the most unsettling and imaginative way by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.
Working with writing partner Efthimis Filippou to create a nightmarish vision of love out of necessity, Lanthimos (the Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth”) takes a cynical, but valid, look at the state of relationships at a time when online dating and shows like “The Bachelor” inspire people to mold themselves into something they’re not just to attract another. In “Lobster,” it’s no longer an elective, it’s a requirement if you’re single and hope to avoid being surgically transformed into an animal, albeit one of your choice.
For Colin Farrell’s paunchy, schlubby David (he gained 40 pounds for the role), that animal (technically a crustacean) is a lobster. When the recently divorced architect mandatorily arrives at the singles spa, The Hotel, he’s told he has 45 days to fall in love with one of the guests or face the knife, just like his brother Bob, who is now David’s dog. As with Bob, the problem David faces is that most of the women he has to choose from are, like him, single for a reason. Ditto the men, who include John C. Reilly’s chronic masturbator Lisping Man and Ben Whishaw’s wimpy, eager-to-please Limping Man.
Their belief that they must find a companion who shares their most dominant trait is shared by the facility’s Nurse Ratchet-type director (Olivia Coleman). But if you’re desperate, like these three men are, you’ll fake it to trick someone to fall in love with you. This leads to some very darkly funny encounters, particularly David (the only character with a proper name) pretending to be heartless to get the woman known as Heartless (Lanthimos regular Angeliki Papoulia) to hookup.
There’s also an element of “The Hunger Games” involved each night when the residents are invited to head into the surrounding woods with dart guns to hunt Loners, the people who have fled The Hotel because they, like Garbo, want to be left alone. These feral outcasts who cherish their singlehood are guided by Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux from “Blue is the Warmest Color”), a dictatorial chief who urges newcomers to follow her specific set of rules forbidding interactions and benevolence. In other words, the life of a Loner is just as repressive and dystopian as that of the guests at The Hotel.
Lanthimos has a lot of fun with this dynamic by shifting David’s point of view from hunter to hunted after he eventually flees into the wild to join up with Loner Leader and possibly find forbidden love with a fellow Loner named Nearsighted Woman (Rachel Weisz, who also narrates). The result is what feels like two separate movies, with the first part being the most sinisterly humorous and the second the most heartfelt and moving. The latter half is also intensely suspenseful, as cruelty and ambition raise their ugly heads.
It’s all great stuff (including the Singles Police), but a lot of what the movie wants to say gets lost in the eye-popping spectacle. The ideas and observations aren’t always clear and the ending frustratingly ambiguous. But the performances (particularly by Farrell and Seydoux), the stark production design (Jacqueline Abrahams) and cinematography (Thimios Bakatakis shooting entirely in Ireland) are so dazzling most of the narrative holes can be forgiven. But if it was Lanthimos’ goal to create a surreal rom-com on a level with Kaufman’s masterpiece, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” he falls short. Still, at a time when originality is at a premium, this meaty “Lobster” will surely do in a pinch.
(R for sexual content including dialogue and some violence.)
Cast includes Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw.