Yorgos Lanthimos launched his career with Dogtooth, a strangely disturbing film about the fears of raising children. Now the writer/director turns his attention to human relationships in a futuristic satire called The Lobster. Why is it called The Lobster? Because Langthimos and his co-writer, fthymis Filippou, smoked a whole bunch of weed one day and thought, what animal would I be if I could be any animal? Oh, I know, a lobster because they live for 100 years and they swim in the ocean and can maintain their fertility their entire lives. Yeah, except for the part where poor lobsters are caught in traps, boiled alive and then their flesh sucked off their poor sad bright red carcasses. Thus presents the dilemma of modern love, modern life and human existence. We think we’re the happy kind of lobster but in reality, we’re part of the machine.
I don’t know if Langthimos got baked to write The Lobster but it does seem like the stoned ramblings of someone brainstorming about an imaginary world where people must form couples or else be turned into animals. At a hotel in the mountains men and women don similar clothing, are forbidden from masturbating, and must try to find something in someone else that they themselves have. One woman gets nosebleeds so her mate must also get nosebleeds. The worst of these is a “heartless woman” who literally has no emotions and does a thing in the film that almost made me walk out. I stuck with it, though, until the bitter end and was glad I did as the film becomes something worthwhile in its final third.
This isn’t what you’ll hear from the majority of film critics, however. They are complaining about the last third of the film, preferring the icky surreality of the first part. But I don’t know if style is enough to overcome what is pretty much a one-note joke. Despite the cast of very fine actors, including Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Wishaw, Rachel Weisz, and Lea Seydoux, the film’s satirical metaphors only take you so far. It is not until near the end where the film’s meaning begins to emerge. That meaning, as it turns out, is true love finding its way out.
The first half of film takes place at a hotel for couples to bond in a certain amount of time or else be turned into animals. If they reject that competition they are exiled into the forest with the rest of the “loners.” The couples then go on shooting sprees to kill the “loners.” It turns out these two worlds aren’t all that different. In one, only controlled love is allowed. In another, no love at all, and certainly no sex. Weisz and Farrell manage to find each other somehow and the rest is, well, the rest.
Who would have thought that this odd movie would end in love but that’s where it goes. Because what it wants to say is that love can’t be controlled nor planned nor policed. It doesn’t follow logic, nor is it based on any set formulas. It crashes upon you and there isn’t much you can do about it. This film, this odd, ugly, painful film is as romantic as Romeo and Juliet though you really do have to reach into a bucket of shit to find its riches.
The Lobster is wholly original, bravely vulgar and funny. Really funny. The cruelty to animals was the part of it I could not tolerate. Violence against human adults barely registers but children or animals? Forget it. Thus, I could not recommend The Lobster to anyone who feels as I do about animals. There is one image in the film I’d preferred to have gone my entire life without seeing or knowing about. I have that right as an old person, to try to filter out things that cause me distress.
I will admit that the film’s last third sold me mainly due to the performance of Rachel Weisz. She is such a good actress that she found the vulnerability and humanity in the automaton symbol she was supposed to be playing. Weisz looked for and found the key motivator to everything she did while most of the other actors functioned as puppets with Langthimos pulling the strings, cackling all the while no doubt.
The Lobster held me in its grip by the end because we humans, and mammals overall, are driven by key primal urges — like survival. But love is so essential to our well being, even if it is just nature programming us to mate and care for our offspring to ensure their survival. Even if the lobster is caught and boiled that doesn’t mean he isn’t born in the first place. Life goes on, love can’t help but happen.