There aren’t any actual lobsters in The Lobster. Sorry to spoil something early on, but it’s crucial to understanding the point of this rather idiosyncratic cinematic oddity… or at least I think it is. There’s really only one certainty with this plot: “The City” is a dystopia of sorts where the lonely have to fit into a society that frowns on being the idea of being single, to the point where either a person finds a mate within 45 days of losing their partner via any means (i.e. break up, divorce or even death) they’ll be turned into the animal of their choice. That element of choice despite ultimate dissatisfaction is the recurring theme that serves as a tether for the bizarre machinations behind Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos‘ newest oddity. The illusion of choice in this world keeps us guessing as much as the characters, wondering where any of this will end up going.
Sometimes that thought process leads to rather bizarre black comedy gold. The Lobster boasts a rather solid cast who never refrain from the main goal of capturing cinematic awkwardness at multiple levels. Colin Farrell leads the affair while being incredibly weak willed. His desires are so often in front of him, with only the right phrase escaping his lips separating him from a life of lonely animalism and human connection. Yet, Farrell exhibits just the right amount of alien social cues to have it all fall away to hilarious effect. The same goes for John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw as they struggle to find mates, whose actions tell us more about this world than mere exposition could. Of course, no one here feels completely human. In fact, the more robotic one acts in the world of The Lobster, the more successful they ultimately are. Whether it be the stringent hotel manager (Olivia Colman) to the rebelliously committed leader in the forest (Léa Seydoux), the characters who abandon much of any human conflicted reasoning are those who wield power while Farrell and Rachel Weisz are cowering in fear down the middle, wanting stability that they can carve for themselves that neither side is willing to budge on.We’re given the idea that choice is irrelevant, that either extreme leads to a life of false happiness.
Even when Farrell and his fellow rebellion members are part of the game, they’re petty ones trying to be normal members of The City, who are still under the iron will to keep up the falsehood of happiness through relationships that are merely there for survival. Who will hunt down people just for the sake of finding some sort of extended chance at fitting in. The Lobster confronts this form desperate self-preservation and does a fine job of selling the comedic hopelessness of that journey, even at its own expense. As The Lobster moves along though, there’s a point where it feels like it runs out of ideas and starts relying on lesser conventional story telling methods to rush through things. It’s particularly confounding when delivered through annoying conventions like narration over what’s clearly happening on screen or obvious behavior from our leads that just feels shoved in for a quick reveal. Even with that core theme of choice, there’s a certain dull lack of keeping up the strange comedic momentum after awhile.
It feels like Lathimos being confounded by a more ambitious story in comparison to the brevity of Dogtooth, which kept things small and compact so as to not deal too much with anything outside of the incubated world left behind. The Lobster may not run on extensive logic, but there’s more of a solid consistency with elements that occur earlier on in the hotel that felt inventive rather than those in the forest dwelling, when things begin their slow decline into “quirk for the sake of cheap conflict” that drags out the conclusion far longer than it needs to. Still, with an ending that keeps that theme of choice alive, The Lobster leaves itself on a more consistent ambiguous note that kept us enthralled in what was happening before rather than continuously add more threads to rush out its story.That ambiguity only works with a solid through line to tether things, leaving The Lobster wobbling its feet to finally find footing like a newly transformed doe walking through the woods.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Hands in Toasters