In addition to being one of the weirdest, most high-concept films to come along in a good while, The Lobster also happens to be one of the most confounding. Watching it was journey that stretched from the heights of delight to the depths of tedium. I laughed, I reveled, I frowned, I got bored. Which isn’t to say I hated it, because I didn’t. Overall, the film is fairly enjoyable and worth the time of anyone who can get behind the admittedly bizarre conceit. No, what we have here is an abject lesson in the importance of sticking one’s landing.
Film, especially absurdist treatises, is a kind of gymnastics. As with an Olympian on a balance beam, care must be maintained throughout the routine in order to give the illusion of effortlessness of performance. Minor slip ups ruin the ruse, costing the gymnast points or even placing. And even the most beautiful routine can be derailed completely without the proper wow-factor that comes with a flawless landing. At the end of the day, that’s what people remember. And that’s exactly what The Lobster forgets.
That being said, the first hour of The Lobster is pulled off just about as perfect and flawlessly as a movie can; that, in itself, is saying something. That a film can sell such a ridiculous premise—a society wherein single people who cannot find love are turned into the animal of their choosing—says a lot about the talents of everyone involved. Director/co-writer Yorgos Lanthimos pulls off his initial balancing act with a breathless bravado, introducing us to the recently divorced David (Colin Farrell) as he attempts to find love for the second time.
This plays out magically throughout the film’s first half; in the world of The Lobster, the single-folk are sent to The Hotel, a place where the unpaired can make their last, desperate attempt to couple off before facing their final punishment for the sin of being unloved. While the prospect of being turned into an animal for failing to find love doesn’t, on the surface, make too terribly much sense, it serves as a wonderful metaphor for the social ostracizing the terminally single face as they get older and, supposedly, less lovable.
In this way, The Lobster is a delightful dystopian examination of love in the modern age. David’s journey through his stay at The Hotel is wonderfully absurd. It alternates beautifully between hysterical and horrifying, the way any good dystopian should. We laugh at the ridiculous ways people try to find their mates—like “Limping Man” (Ben Wishaw) slamming his face against the table to make his nosebleed in order to win the heart of “Nosebleed Woman” (Jessica Barden)—until it dawns on us that failing to win the heart of another results in the characters literally being stripped of their humanity.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and since we’re dealing with a dystopian society, someone getting hurt is a given. The world of The Hotel, which serves as a microcosm of the society as a whole, is contrasted by the world of The Loners. They’ve eschewed society, going underground to live in the woods, away from the world and away from love. Loners are forbidden from romantic interaction, on punishment up to and including death. They’re seen as pests, hunted by the “guests” of The Hotel so that they might earn additional days on their stay.
Inevitably, David joins them. Inevitably, it’s here he finds love.
In Rachel Weisz’s “Short Sighted Woman,” David finds true companionship, forbidden though it might be. It’s also where The Lobster begins to lose its way. It works, I guess, to further to idea that people change aspects of themselves to better suit their potential lovers, rather than just being themselves, but never does the second half of the film ever reach the level its preceding half. The sheer inevitability of their romance causes the story to drag, that and The Loners are just never quite as interesting as their counterparts in The Hotel.
It almost feels as though Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou could never quite figure out where to take their narrative or how to execute their thesis as flawlessly as they envisioned. By the second half of The Lobster, the film becomes little more than a series of scenes that, while well-done, never quite add much weight to the purpose overall. Instead, it becomes a sort of hammer with which they attempt to beat their purpose into your skull.
Still, despite everything I didn’t like about the film, it’s difficult not to enjoy at least parts of The Lobster. Even the lesser second-half has moments of genius to be found, fewer and farther between though they might be when compared to the film’s first half. And with an admittedly bizarre, hard-to-accomplish concept, that they were able to pull it off with any success is largely admirable. While it’s never quite as good as it wants or tries to be, The Lobster does manage to delight while holding up a black mirror to our modern conceptions of love and relationships. That alone makes it an enjoyable effort, I just can’t help wondering about what might have been.
The Lobster is now playing in theaters everywhere.