Film review: The Lobster is a unique, bizarre surprise

Colin Farrell stars in The Lobster, an odd, societal critique that operates way outside the box. Photo: A24 Colin Farrell stars in The Lobster, an odd, societal critique that operates way outside the box. Photo: A24

It’s little surprise that The Lobster, the English-language directorial debut of award-winning Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), has left quite the impression on audiences and critics alike. In its limited release it has garnered rave reviews and generated word-of-mouth notoriety that reaches far beyond its modest marketing campaign. What is surprising is just how comfortable Lanthimos is working in a non-native tongue for an entirely new demographic while remaining as uncompromising as ever in his bizarre, brutal, yet endearing vision.

The Lobster is a supremely weird, strangely cathartic film that explores the uncomfortable balance between the individual’s desire for companionship and the confining societal expectation built around that natural urge. This is taken to a ridiculous degree in what appears to be an otherwise normal city: Single adults are brought to a hotel to find companionship based on entirely arbitrary matching characteristics—shortsightedness, recurring nosebleeds, limps and even more ridiculous things. If they do not find their match within 45 days, they are turned into an animal of their choice. (Says a hotel employee, “That’s why there are so many dogs in the world.”) Outside the hotel, a group of rebellious loners has its own overarching view on romance; no flirting and no sexual interaction save for masturbation or else suffer a particularly brutal punishment.

Interestingly, the strangest thing about The Lobster isn’t its premise. It’s the presentation: Framed and paced like a quirky Sundance comedy, its disarming cuteness makes the intensity of the threat of violence much more effective. Lanthimos never actually shows a bloody act being committed, instead focusing on the most terrifying parts: the lead-up and the consequence. Though there is abundant pitch-black humor as well as actual horror, The Lobster is unconstrained by genre expectations as it forges with its unique vision.

There is real societal critique in its insanity. In this world, no one actually wants to become an animal and they dread the supposedly gruesome transformation process, yet most accept the law as fact and are happy to enter into loveless relationships in order to fulfill it. Even the breakaway militants see no problem dictating a set of rules that is virtually identical to the law, just in the other direction. Our hero, Daniel (Colin Farrell), finds real love with a woman (Rachel Weisz), yet there is nowhere for them to go. As runaways from the hotel, they’ve broken the law and face a terrifying punishment, yet they cannot live openly among the loners.

No one questions the absurdity of these rules on either side, yet nobody—even the law-abiding citizens—appears content with the results, an extremely effective commentary on the pageantry the real world has placed on what should just be two individuals who like each other. Satisfying one’s family is a widely accepted reason to get married, which is in many ways just as preposterous as if the government were to demand the same level of arbitrary criteria.

Not quite horror, not quite romantic comedy, The Lobster builds its own genre out of the remains of overused tropes, using conventionality of form as a weapon to make its attack on our expectations that much stronger.

The Lobster R, 118 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

Playing this week

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

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Violet Crown Cinema

200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

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