Review: 'The Lobster'

Too dark, dreary for its own good, 'The Lobster' lacks any real payoff.
FISH IN A BARREL: Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz play star crossed lovers in a dystopian future where chornically single people are turned into animals.

As a morbid satire of how individuals are pressured to become couples, Yorgos Lanthimos' fable, The Lobster, has merit. The Greek director, previously of Dogtooth, certainly has made an answer film to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Anyone who comes from a traditional family, who endured ceaseless nagging to get married and produce some kids, would find this savory... for a while.

But to use an old word, The Lobster is crabbed. The dialogue is executed in a toneless existential style, like a David Mamet adaptation—complete with foreign language training tape stilted narration.

We can utter some hollow laughter watching the slow crushing of the forlorn main character, David (Colin Farrell). This abstracted, depressed man, with a brushy mustache and a noticeable paunch, is numb from being rendered single after 11 years and one month of marriage.

The dictatorship David lives under forces all of its single citizens to spend a holiday in a coastal hotel, run by a politely cruel, all-seeing Hotel Director (Olivia Colman, the movie's standout).

Guests of this nameless resort are forced to wear uniforms of cheap suits or floral frocks, depending on gender; they have less than a month to hook up with some other unattached single person. And the more damaged you are—say, if you have an Elmer Fudd lisp, like one of the guests (John C. Reilly), the better chance you'll be left alone.

Amenities include brisk, impersonal morning lapdances from the maids, to pump up the lust without satisfying it. (Masturbation is punished with burns to the offending hand, and orgasm is forbidden). Colman's Hotel Director inspires the guests to pair up by staging dinnertime playlets warning that, for instance, a lone woman going through life could be the prey of rapists. The male guests sometimes have one of their arms tied behind their back, as an object lesson of how necessary a helpmeet can be.

If you don't find someone in the right amount of time, you will be rendered, by some unseen, reverse Dr. Moreau surgery, into the animal of your choice. David has chosen a lobster, perhaps in honor of T. S. Eliot's character, Prufrock, who desires to be "ragged claws. Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." Most people would rather be dogs—David's brother, who accompanies him, has been transdogrified.

When not stewing in hot tubs or roaming the grounds, the guests head out to the woods to hunt down the "loners" with guns and tranquilizer darts—these ferals are singles who have fled to become rebels in the nearby forest.

Any dystopic fantasy has only one place to go—and that's where The Lobster goes, into the woods, where the single people have escaped being rendered into critters. But Lanthimos is uninterested in the pleasure of revolution. David's life out there is as bleak as the hotel; the merciless rebel leader (Lea Seydoux) insists on celibacy, with more corporal punishment doled out to would-be lovers. Among the mud and damp leaves, David last finds a woman he can love. She's a myopic reject, referred to in the script as The Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz).

The Lobster is stuck in a zone between Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros and some modest idea that Kurt Vonnegut (as for example his short story "Harrison Bergeron") might have considered for the length of an afternoon.

The bleakness leaves a mark in the viewer—it's disturbing, scab-picking, wearily convincing in the way the characters go after each other like lobsters in a barrel. But this fable doesn't have a payoff larger that the Hotel Director's line to a successful couple. "You will be assigned children. That usually helps. A lot."

In a play, this might have been powerful. As a film, the mutilations are more realistic than the allegory, making it a bit punishing. And it's hard to care about the fates of these rigid, forlorn silhouette characters. You can see what The Lobster is trying to say so clearly that there's never that refreshing possibility of misunderstanding or ambiguity, essential for a real work of genius.

The Lobster
R; 118 Min.
Camera 7, Aquarius, CinéArts

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: