Every single person has gone through it at some point in their life: Some well-meaning, but misguided, friend, family member, acquaintance or even stranger barges into their life wondering about their marriage plans for the future. God knows I’ve been there (I’m not getting married, Mom. Sorry.) When are you going to stop dating and settle down? When are you going to make an “honest” man or woman of your significant other? When are you going to have children, stop being so childish, grow up? GET MARRIED? For anyone who’s had to grit their teeth through such needling, invasive questions then The Lobster is the deadpan absurdist dystopian sci-fi romantic dark comedy you didn’t know you need in your life right now.
There is no secret that getting married is deemed to be pretty important social capital in our capitalist world of today. Weddings are lucrative business, with people from dressmakers to party planners making bank on catering to the fairy tale whims of people determined to make their special day special — even if they do it more than once. If you are an adult aren’t married, you are out of the circle, with singles being seen as somehow “lesser” — immature, lazy, without commitment and therefore disposable. Alternative relationship lifestyles — polyamory, common law unions, celibacy — are looked at with scorn and derision, as if such people are mutants. You must want to get married, sometime, right? C’mon! You haven’t met the right person/changed your mind the right way yet!
The Lobster takes that idea to the extreme, envisioning an alternate world where one must legally be married — or else be turned into an animal of their choosing. Any singleton, divorcee or widow(er) caught without a partner is sent to a hotel for 45 days, where they are instructed to find a mate under a series of strict rules. If they don’t find one by the end of their stay, then it is animalization for them.
Peter (a wonderfully sad sack Colin Farell, burying his charisma under glasses, paunch and an ugly moustache) is fresh off a recent divorce and not necessarily eager to re-mate. But he will become a lobster if he doesn’t. As his days dwindle down and his chances to find a suitable mate recede, Peter makes the decision to stage an escape, finding his way into the forest where he meets up with a band of “Loners,” fellow escapees who have developed their own secret society, albeit one that also dictates its own fascistic view of coupledom. It’s in this world, though, where Peter may finally find the right one.
The Lobster was made by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, and if you’ve seen the man’s breakthrough film, Dogtooth, then you know exactly what to expect. Working in English for the first time, with his first starry cast — in addition to Farrell, the ensemble also includes Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw and Lea Seydoux — Lanthimos doesn’t tamp down his penchant for disturbingly bone-dry black humored weirdness. The Lobster is frequently hilarious, but it’s also pungent and even vicious, with the humor crawling into the darkest of dark territories. Yet there is a beating heart, a full-blooded embrace of romance, buried under all that surreal edginess. The Lobster is not bleak or mean-spirited. It may be caustic, but it’s not cynical.
The Lobster is great. It’s a marvel of a film, maybe one of the Best of the year. It’s beautiful, and profound, with a lot to say about the state of romance today, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. It’s clearly a satire on our obsession with marriage and familydom, and there are a lot of funny, sharp bits targeting that culture. But there’s also a fabulous little sneak attack on bi erasure, and on the arbitrary fields of measurement by which we view others as acceptable mates — and how others see us. It never pretends that relationships aren’t hard work, but it sees the beauty in them — as long as we do it on our own terms, without societal pressure. It’s graceful, layered and wonderfully acted — all the characters exist in a world of formal flatness, and the actors plug into Lanthimos’s strange, idiosyncratic worldview perfectly, one that could be described as an even weirder, darker version of Wes Anderson.
This is a film that is absolutely captivating and if I had to find a few (very) minor quibbles, it would be that it drags a few bits here and there in the second act. But those are just minor flaws, as the film builds to a perfectly judged final act and envelops you in its offbeat world. This Lobster is worth catching.