Throwing a solid Hollywood cast into a surreal arthouse satire, acclaimed Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) makes his English-language debut with a bang. This is a blackly comical parable about how it feels to be single in a society that only values couples. With its two-part structure it almost seems like two movies mashed together, exploring the topic in ways that are smart and revelatory, and utterly deranged. And the strikingly gifted actors bring it to life beautifully.
It's set in a remote hotel on the Irish coastline, where the recently divorced David (Colin Farrell) has gone to find a mate. Single people here have 45 days to find their perfect partner, or else they're transformed surgically into an animal of their choosing. David has opted to become a lobster, but is determined to find a wife. He watches as one guy (Ben Whishaw) fakes nosebleeds to appear more like a young woman (Jessica Barden). So David pretends to be something he isn't, but is caught by the hotel's imperious manager (Olivia Colman). He escapes into the woods, where he joins a desperate band of loners led by a fierce warrior (Lea Seydoux). There he falls for a woman (Rachel Weisz) who is short-sighted like he is, but romance is forbidden among the loners.
The filmmakers are inventively exploring some very real issues in society, which makes the story ring eerily true, no matter how relentlessly odd it gets. The script's action sequences sometimes feel a bit contrived, but they add to the characters' nagging sense of desperation as they're stuck in a world that simply won't accept them as they are. And it helps that the actors dive in without hesitation. Farrell has gained weight to play the middle-aged David, who had a happy life before being plunged into this nightmare. He's very easy to identify with, both in his awkward interaction and as he boils over in rage. Weisz adds a lusty, razor-sharp intelligence to her role. And Colman quietly steals the movie with her deadpan performance as the godlike hotel manager.
Sometimes this extreme satire feels rather on-the-nose, but it's also a powerfully provocative exploration of the way society forces people to comply, marginalising anyone who refuses to join the status quo. And Lanthimos is gifted at using comedy and emotion to deepen the characters and themes, digging beneath the surface while telling a story that's simply impossible to predict. So in the end, we're almost taken aback at the way all of this has wormed its way under our skin, revealing things about ourselves we thought we had suppressed. Especially the way we value or dismiss people around us based on factors that are utterly irrelevant.
Continue reading: The Lobster Review