Tired of the superhero grind? Ready for something weird? Never fear, The Lobster is here!
No, The Lobster is not an obscure X-Man—although maybe Marvel should look into it. It's Colin Farrell, and when this dark, surreal comedy begins, he's not a lobster yet. He's just a sad, recently single guy named David checking into a hotel. But it's quickly apparent that this hotel has some special features. For one thing, there's a rifle that shoots tranquilizer darts hung over the bed. For another, everyone in the hotel is single like David, and they're all varying degrees of sad about it, because if they can't find a mate in 45 days, a strange fate awaits. But, as the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) says, "The fact that you will be transformed into an animal should not alarm you."
But at least they get to choose what kind of animal their undatable selves will be transformed into. Most people choose to become dogs, but David wants to be a lobster, because, he says, they can live for a hundred years. His choice earns him a compliment from the Hotel Manager, who like most of the cast assembled by director Yorgos Lanthimos, is an expert at the particularly British art of getting a laugh by saying emotionally charged things in a detached deadpan.
As if being forced to look for a life partner in a room full of identically dressed, frumpy people dancing to the universe's worst party band isn't bad enough, there's the matter of the tranq dart guns. It turns out, checking into the Hotel is not voluntary. All citizens of The City without a husband or wife are sent there to face the mating ultimatum. Naturally, some run, choosing life in the woods as radical singles. The Hotel's denizens are led into the woods on periodic hunting parties to track down and tranquilize fugitive singles, who are then dragged back to the Hotel for animalization. Bag a single, and you get an extra day added onto your stay at the Hotel. Some people, like the Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) have extended their lives indefinitely by becoming ruthless players of the Most Dangerous Game.
Lanthimos' strange creation sets a similarly dark, humorous tone as Terry Gilliam's masterpiece Brazil. But lacking Gilliam's extravagant budget, his absurdities are more grounded in the familiar. There's a lot going on underneath the surface of The Lobster. As it was unfolding, I began to take it as an allegory for the age of internet romance: Social norms that used to be enforced invisibly are now formalized when everyone is forced into the same online arenas to meet people they might be attracted to. Not that the old system of meeting random people in bars produced any better outcomes, but at least it was unmediated by invisible tech companies whose motives we are pretty sure don't align with our own. David is constantly being pulled by opposing forces which cannot be reconciled, no matter how he tries to adapt. When he's in the hotel, he tries to connect with the Heartless Woman, because he has to hook up with somebody. Later, when he's fled to the woods, he meets his soul mate (Rachel Weisz), but they have to go to hilarious lengths to keep their love secret from the radical individualists of the forest.
To call Lanthimos' film "quirky" is a dramatic understatement. The Lobster is that rare idiosyncratic film that remains emotionally accessible, largely thanks to a carefully honed lead performance by Farrell and some timely help from John C. Reilly as another hopeless schlub on the fast track to dog town. In a summer where theaters are plagued by Batman Poisoning, The Lobster is a suitable antidote.