From left, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, and Colin Farrell in The Lobster (courtesy of Sundance Institute)
Yorgos Lanthimos’ debut in the English film market, The Lobster, is certainly a unique concoction. The Greek director has fashioned a hodge-podge of a plot filled with sarcastic shells of characters, half-heartedly shuffling their way to their own dooms in a nonsensical dystopian future. Starring a surprisingly famous cast, including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, and John C. Reilly, this disjointed excuse for indie societal commentary certainly entertains, but its facetious direction makes it hard for its otherwise poignant moments to really come through.
The first ludicrous conceit we are faced with is the idea of a hotel where single people are sent to find partners in 45 days or less. The second – that if they fail, they are somehow transformed into the animal of their choice. This sets up the movie for large ideological questions about intimacy and the societal pressure to couple, but as David (Farrell) and Weisz’s unnamed character stumble through their haphazard relationship, these questions go nearly ignored. Lanthimos’ facetious direction leaves our protagonists’ relationship as dull and cursory as their supposedly more shallow co-stars’, with Farrell and Weisz flatly reading their lines in a parody of a poorly cast table read. The nihilist moral is overabundantly clear – everyone’s feelings are forced, no-one really means what they says, and sex is simply going through the motions.
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in The Lobster (courtesy of Sundance Institute)
Although this post-post-modern style does heighten the moments of comedy throughout the film, the general aftertaste is one of utter emptiness. The periodic shock tactics – a flayed rabbit, a dog kicked to death, the prospect of cutting one’s own eyes out – merely serve to deafen the viewer from any strains of true feeling. By the end, we’re squeamish and lost, confused as to whether or not we even want these strange, hollow people to live happily ever after.
Nonetheless, Weisz manages to hold the film down in its second half, even as the plot veers wildly away from previous set-ups and abandons its earlier formal constraints. Her evocative expressions and excellent portrayal of blindness serve as an anchor for the narrative, even as Farrell loses steam. On the whole, the film holds our interest right up until the point that Lanthimos loses the animal-transformation thread, foiling a potentially satisfying frame narrative in favor of ostentatious absurdity. I really wanted to like The Lobster, but it squirmed out of my hands and flopped back into the ocean before I could feel anything.