The Lobster is the bold, striking English-language debut of Greek satirist Yorgos Lanthimos. At once cynical, cutting and violent, it also indulges in moments of sweetness and endearingly off-beat sense of humour.
Colin Farrell is David, whose wife has just left him. Now single, he must enter The Hotel, a resort in which he is given 45 days to find love, or else be turned into an animal of his choice in his case, the titular lobster. Along with awkward dance parties and solitary breakfasts, guests are also required to take part in hunts – namely of The Loners, a group flouting society’s rules by rejecting companionship and love, living separate, isolated lives in the woods.
The quick-witted script skewers not only a society that sees coupling and relationships as the end-goal of life, but those who veer too far the other way by rejecting relationships outright. Extremes and binary positions are the targets here, exemplified by the “clerical issues” that make registering as bisexual at The Hotel an impossibility.
Farrell is awkward and restrained throughout, mastering the strange, shuffled body language of one entirely at odds with the world around him. Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly chiefly serve for comic effect as the Limping Man and Lisping Man respectively, two hotel guests desperately searching for partners with corresponding impediments, while Rachel Weisz is quiet but affecting as Farrell’s inevitable romantic foil.
The film stumbles slightly once the action exits The Hotel, losing some of the focus and purpose that drives its first half forwards so effectively. Lanthimos seems most at home when challenging the couple-centric, and The Loners prove a murkier satirical target. Once they become prominent, the jokes slow and the drama picks up, but never feels entirely earned.
Moments of arch violence punctuate the film’s controlled presentation, frequently eliciting nervous laughter alongside gasps of shock, while explicit sexual references are made to feel utterly unnatural in the film’s uncomfortable world. Otherwise, it’s witty scripting and repressed performances that yield the frequent comedy here, playing off The Lobster’s detailed world, carefully calibrated to be consistently off-kilter and surprising.
The Lobster is likely to bemuse some, and simply shock others, but those in-tune with Lanthimos’ unusual tone will find a precise and hilarious satire, as thoughtful and considered as it is genuinely funny.
Words by Dominic Preston
The Lobster screens at the BFI London Film Festival on the 13th and 15th October.