Yorgos Lanthimos evades classification and distribution in this final “Missed Madison” selection
The Lobster availability: GoWatchIt
If you could be any animal for a day, what would you choose? A horse? A dog? That weird seal-looking thing at the zoo?Now, a second question: What if you had to turn into an animal after 45 days of unsuccessful state-mandated coupling, where masturbation is forbidden and any escapees are hunted down and shot?
The Lobster is ridiculous and it knows it. For his first English language feature, Yorgos Lanthimos has created a weird, gangly monster that eludes easy explanations and defies classification. A muted color palette and hilariously banal conversation bump up against its George Orwell-hosted version of Match.com, where a nameless “City” demands sexual security from its citizens. Guards are primed to check marriage certificates at shopping malls yet nobody bats an eye at the llamas and elephants that roam free in the same patch of forest. The weirdness is pushed to the background, which only makes it weirder.
At some point, Colin Farrell’s David is dumped. We’re shown this, but first we’re told this. In arch narration that, again, is given to us before its presence is explained, The Lobster sort of sleepwalks through David’s journey. From the “Hotel,” where he’s equipped with a regulation navy blazer and khakis to repeat the aforementioned courtship cycle, to David’s cynical pairing up with a ruthless Russian woman, to a frenzied escape to the wilderness.
We’re shown all of this, courtesy of Rachel Weisz’s “Short Sighted Woman.” Both the emotional and literal voice, Weisz channels a wounded empathy as one of the “Loners,” the appropriately blunt name Lanthimos gives those who flee the Hotel’s sexual fascism in favor of solitude. Of course, David soon learns that the Loners he takes up with are merely the other side of the same coin. A stone-faced Lea Seydoux leads the charge on eye-for-an-eye punishments for any infractions. Kiss someone? We’ll cut your lips. Fuck someone? You get the idea.
The Lobster begins with a laughable premise, but dark realities quickly emerge. The Loners dig their own graves, an efficient means of both dealing with their probable demises by the Hotel staff and an emotionally distancing way to kill time. Back at the Hotel, those who sully their mating potential by masturbating at night get their offending hand stuck in a toaster come breakfast time. Such a simplistic punishment is so cringe-inducing it becomes bleakly comedic, where laughing becomes a reflexive remedy to all the authoritarianism.
Banality is the second option. Hotel denizens broach conversations based on hair color, blood type, and the varying weights of sports balls. Among the Loners’ code of celibacy, Farrell’s David secretly bonds with Weisz’s “Short Sighted Woman” over her precise namesake. A glasses prescription might as well be love poetry in a world with no color, especially when everyone is dreading turning into whatever breed of dog was interrogated out of them at check-in.
Between slow-motion sequences set to chamber music and his actors trying their hardest to be bad ones, The Lobster‘s dystopia is paradoxically stylized in understated fashion. Occasionally lost in the drabness is the frightening reality that human interaction has become less about finding a connection and more about finding a literal match. Lanthimos raises deeper questions about trust but makes it clear he’s not interested in answering that question, circling back to the same prompt with a frighteningly committed conclusion. Still thinking about that animal?
Be sure to check out other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews from last week, including Grant Phipps on The Story of My Death here at LakeFrontRow.
Jason Fuhrman on Maps to the Stars; Craig Johnson on Experimenter; and James Kreul on Field Niggas at Madison Film Forum.
Four Star Video Podcast‘s discussion of Alléluia.