The Lobster

3 out of 5

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

‘Absurdist dystopian black comedy film’ is a pretty heady way of describing The Lobster.  It’s not inaccurate – it is absurd, it is a black comedy, it’s vague background details could suggest a dystopia – but it shunts the movie into a particular genre that invites knowing nods and shared shelf space with obscure, outre flicks, when it’s actually a ridiculously simple film, with one rather purposeless tweak that makes its simplicity absurd.  I mean, ‘purposeless’ and absurdity go together, but if you take that tweak away, The Lobster is really just saying one thing for its two hour runtime: relationships are wacky, y’all.

In The Lobster, couples are praised above all else; individuals are stopped by the police and checked to make sure they’re partnered up, and it seems that if they’re not, they get to check in to ‘The Hotel’ – which our recently singled David (Colin Farrell) is doing – and given 45 days to find a mate.  Should they not secure such a mate by the end of that sentence, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing, accounting for the various critters we see plodding about the forest surrounding the hotel – camels, peacocks, etc.  This is a funny concept, and it gives the flick its title: David has chosen a lobster as his fallback transformation (they live a long time; they’re always fertile), and it offsets the usual dystopian shtick of death or brainwashing.  Fair enough.  But that’s pretty much all The Lobster has.

Stripping social interactions down to an essentially contractual one – which is the satire here – everyone speaks in monotone soundbytes, and only know to “bond” when they both share the same nuance, such as a limp, or near-sightedness.  At the midway point, David breaks free of the hotel to join ‘the loners’ prowling the woods, but finds they essentially have their own rules as well, just the flipside “anarchist” version of coupling: stringent singledom.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos makes all of this engaging visually, taking a flat, observer approach that mimics the dialogue’s tone, but not holding shots for longer than necessary to pad out a joke.  Everything feels framed purposefully to depersonalize everyone, which definitely makes the main gag here even more ridiculous.  These scenes are then cast against very dramatic, horror-movie-ish stings, captured in slo-mo, once more overblowing the dramaturgy humorously.  And the actors – Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux – get the tone, not playing their roles as dullards or hopeless, but just as what’s described above: people, with all the need for actual uniqueness and real interactions sucked out of their lives.

But the movie is still ridiculously simple.  Early scenes in which singles are trained on the benefits of not being single – if you walk alone, you’re raped! – feel like the kind of anti-coupling banter I went through as a high schooler, and extending this out to two hours, while not unentertaining, comes across as someone trying to snark at swipe-right culture, which is… the same as it ever was, just a bit faster paced and digital.  Relationships are wacky.  I’m not sure The Lobster has more to say than that.