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Review: The Lobster

July 18, 2016

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Lobster PosterA starkly surreal dark comedy packed with eerily relevant social metaphors, The Lobster imagines a dystopic near-future society where single people are sent to a strangely clinical hotel where they are given forty five days to choose a partner.  And if they do not meet this deadline, they are turned into an animal of their choosing and released into the world.

David (Colin Farrell) is a lonely, middle aged single man whose sole friend is his brother, a black and white border collie, and decides to check himself into the hotel.  He inquires about being put down as bisexual, because of that one guy he was with in college, but is told that this is no longer an option and classifies himself as heterosexual.  Not surprisingly, every little thing in this world operates strictly within a binary system, right down to there being no half-sizes for the sanctioned shoes.

The rules at the hotel are incredibly rigid.  You have to stay in one of the single rooms until you meet someone else, at which point you are switched to a double room where you have two weeks to try and make the relationship work.  There are organized activities to show the value of being in a relationship, and for your first day, you are forced to have one of your hands cuffed to your belt to demonstrate the importance of pairs.  If you are caught masturbating, you get your hand shoved in a toaster.  Every day they are sent out into the woods with tranquilizer guns to hunt “loners,” with time extensions added to their deadlines for every one they capture.

So named for the type of animal that David chooses to become should he remain single, the first half of The Lobster unfolds with a measured tone that is as delightfully droll as it is disturbing and strange, introducing us to its memorably offbeat cast of characters.  The other denizens of the hotel include a young guy with a limp (Ben Whishaw), a lisping man (John C. Reilly), a young woman who suffers from sudden nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), as well as a heartless lady (Angeliki Papoulia), who is completely cruel and sociopathic even by the standards of this world.  Because the relationships are forced, there is a coldness and distance to the way people socialize at the hotel, with every interaction being so tightly orchestrated and controlled that they become devoid of much real meaning.

The film provides thought provoking metaphors not only of governmental control over our personal lives in a world increasingly devoid of true privacy, but also of how much pressure society puts on people to be in relationships, and the stigmas that surround those who remain single.  While still weaving in some interesting themes, the second half of The Lobster isn’t as compelling as the first.  The film becomes an almost overly quirky love story between David and a mysterious woman (Rachel Weisz) who shares his condition of being shortsighted, and is part of a rebel group of loners with a leader (Léa Seydoux) who is against any kind of relationship.  It ends on an ambiguous note that feels a little too abrupt.

But The Lobster is still a well crafted social satire, sure to evoke a myriad of reactions that only make the experience more interesting.  Director Yorgos Lanthimos, who also proved himself as an entirely unique cinematic voice with Dogtooth, capably handles the film’s mix of tones, and the entire ensemble cast turns in solid performances.  It unfolds at a deliberate pace, with the cinematography and hypnotizing score helping transport us into this offbeat portrait of control and forced relationships.  But perhaps the most disturbing thing is how it holds a mirror up to our own society, through a world where you get turned into an animal if you don’t comply with the system.

The Lobster is now available on iTunes and other digital platforms, and is being released on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow from Mongrel Media.

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