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The Lobster | Review

Animal Farm: Lanthimos’ Dystopic Dip into RomCom

the-lobster-posterGreek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos makes an admirable English language debut with The Lobster, set within an original dystopic landscape charting the grim prospects for the monogamous human relationship. Those familiar with the director’s unique black humor from Dogtooth (2009) and ALPS (2011) should be pleased to find none of his abilities to be lost in translation. And yet, this latest also feels as if it prizes sly commentary over substance, a cohesion of elements that make his other titles feel a bit more inventive and a bit less belabored. Still, there’s much to admire in this latest work, a bizarre universe unto itself.

David (Colin Farrell) has just been left by his wife. But he lives in a world where it is against the law to be single, so he is forced to check into a hotel where singles have 45 days to find a mate or be turned into an animal of their choosing. As the title indicates, David would like to be a lobster. He’s always like the ocean. The hotel manager (Olivia Coleman) and her husband (Garry Mountaine) seem very soothing, and with the help of the maid (Ariane Labed) and two other new bachelors (Ben Whishaw; John C. Reilly), David begins to acclimate. The guests are allowed to gain more time by regular hunting trips to the forest where they tranquilize and capture people known as the Loners. In an act of desperation, David tries to make himself an appropriate candidate for the Heartless Woman (Aggeliki Papoulia), but this ends disastrously.

Beginning with the surprisingly portly figure of Colin Farrell, a lonely man that’s let himself go to seed, The Lobster is filled with a variety of unexpected subtleties, especially considered the high caliber cast amassed here. The film feels as if it’s divided into two distinct segments, and once David flees the hotel, it feels like we’ve entered less predictable territory since The Lobster feels a bit more playful when we reach the equally rigid rebel group, the Loners, with very French leader Lea Seydoux recalling someone like the Huppert character in I Heart Huckabees (2004). But Lanthimos and co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou tend to revel in repetition, which tends to draw the film on longer than it feels it should be.

An inspired opening sequence involving a random woman driving out into a field to shoot a donkey while another such animal looks on promises something more enigmatic, a metaphor about human relationships we haven’t seen before. Instead, the film turns into an extensive, if witty, commentary about the ridiculous sanctions humans place on finding a mate, replete with more strange dance sequences and uncomfortably funny sexual scenarios. Perhaps in critique of our current cultural embrace of finding a significant other via social apps and online dating, both gay and straight, the inmates of this lovelorn hotel desperately seek to make connections based on similar traits, something that can only lead to lies and unhappiness. But the grass is not indeed greener in the forest where the Loners are not allowed to fraternize, dipping into some vaguely defined city randomly as they prepare for an attack on the unwitting hotel managers. Early mention is made of the ‘homosexual’ option at the hotel, but apparently that section isn’t depicted, which surely would have to look a bit more, shall we say, relaxed.

Rachel Weisz, who narrates (sometimes with dialogue just a bit too stylized), is a warm presence at the end of the film, but nearly all the other cast members feel less dynamic, presented as a series of types, as is often indicated by their character’s names. An ominous score is over utilized, something that begins as rather comical but becomes tedious as the film wears on. Its final sequence aims to unsettle, but has neither the tension of Dogtooth nor the beauty of ALPS in this closing moment, an action that seems to be trying too hard to make a lasting impression. Lanthimos continues to be a unique purveyor of his own distinct landscapes, but The Lobster doesn’t take him out of his comfort zone.

Reviewed on May 15 at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition. 118 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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