The Lobster is set in the near future, in a world that values couples above all else. David (Colin Farrell) has been left by his wife. Per society rules, he moves to a government hotel, where he has 45 days to pair up with a new love – otherwise he'll be turned into the animal of his choice and released into the wild.
At the hotel, David is asked what animal he would like to be turned into should that become necessary. His answer is a lobster. Asked why, he earnestly says, “Because lobsters live for over 100 years. They're blue-blooded, like aristocrats, and they stay fertile all their lives. Also, I like the sea very much.”
Yorgos Lanthimos' first English language film is billed as a comedy, but you need to understand it plays its odd premise straight. The humor is mostly absurd and deadpan, delivered by characters that are trying to salvage their lives and retain their places in the human community. So yes, it's a comedy, but a very somber one.
The Lobster was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and it won the Jury Prize. I found the movie sad, funny and challenging. Some of the imagery is disturbing. The pacing is deliberate, which means that if you get involved in the story everything will likely seem to move along at the right clip, but if not, you may find it draggy.
Colin Farrell is very good as David, making the peculiar social rules seem plausible by his low-key, polite, and direct reactions to them. Asked during the intake process whether he is sexually attracted to men or women, he responds, “Women,” then says, “Is there a bisexual option available?” When told, “No sir, that option is no longer available,” he nods and says nothing, while we marvel at how the system eliminates gray areas to more easily fit people into boxes.
Farrell put on 45 pounds for the role and he promptly strips down to his tighty whities so that you can see his big belly, because when an actor gains or loses a significant amount of weight for a role, Hollywood Law mandates they show you the results of their dedication to their craft. Fun Fact: Those actors are then required to get back in shape and hit the talk show circuit so that everyone will understand that their noble efforts are complete and they are back in fighting shape again.
David, by the way, is the only character that gets a name. The other main cast members are Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux), Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Hotel Manager (Olivia Coleman) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly).
Roughly the first half of the film addresses David's arrival, orientation and socialization attempts at the hotel. The second half follows him as he sneaks away from the place and joins a group of rebellious loners that live in the woods. They have their own set of extreme rules that turn out to be understandable in context. Physical romantic or sexual contact with other rebels is forbidden, because that's what the system wants them to do. So when the Loner Leader tells David she was looking for him, he covers for his amorous activities by saying, “I was masturbating behind those trees over there.”
Filmmaker Lanthimos told the Washington Post that he and his writing partner Efthymis Filippou wanted to “do something about romantic relationships and how single people are treated within society. The pressure that is on them in order to be with someone and … the pressure they put upon themselves to be with someone. We like to push those situations to extremes in order to reveal the absurdity behind them, behind things that we consider normal in our everyday life.”
The story never reveals, or even speculates, whether the failed singles are really transformed into animals, leaving you with one more thing to discuss after the movie. Certainly, The Lobster is not for everybody. But if you're adventurous and patient, there are ample rewards to be had.