I adored the absurd surreal film The Lobster. I missed it at Sundance, where it premiered in January. This is a love it or hate it kind of movie. I loved it, but some of the people walking out of my suburban theater HATED it. They really hated it. For me, it was just my cup of tea, and a welcome standout after a string of mediocre films I’ve seen this past week.
The film opens with a woman driving in the countryside in the rain. She stops her car, gets out and shoots a donkey in a field. Gets back in her car and drives away. It’s never referred to again, but that sets the tone of how absurd this world is that Greek writer/director Yorges Lanthimos has created. We then first see David (Colin Farrell). His wife is breaking up their 12 year marriage for another man. And that means he has to leave immediately to be taken away to “The Hotel” to be paired up with another woman. Singles and loners are not allowed in this near future dystopian world.
When David arrives at The Hotel (in County Kerry, Ireland), the manager (the always exceptional Olivia Colman) explains the rules to him. He has 45 days to find a new mate or he will be turned into an animal. He chooses a lobster, because they can live for 100 years and he’s always liked the sea. “Excellent choice.” He is warned that if he doesn’t find his true mate in time, he cannot couple after he is transformed if she picks another animal. “A wolf and a penguin could not couple because that would be absurd.”
This film is populated by so many of my favorite character actors. Olivia Colman of The Night Manager. John C. Reilly is a man with an unfortunate lisp. Ben Whishaw has a limp. Ashley Jenkins of The Extras is known as “Biscuit Woman”. Couples must come together with the same distinguishing characteristic. Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) bangs his head against tables to get nosebleeds to pair with a woman with that frequent malady. All the single residents of the hotel must go out on hunts into the woods with tranquilizer guns to search for “loners”.
If they catch a loner, they can extend their stay at the hotel. One unfeeling woman has bagged so many loners that she has an extra 160 days. David (Farrell) has brought his brother with him, who has been turned into a dog.
Every one of the actors delivers their lines in a quirky deadpan manner. I think that’s what inspired some of the hate of my fellow viewers at the theater, but I just thought it added to all the absurdity. These actors commit to the bizarre rules of this film world. It borders on absurd comedy, and then there are some sudden scenes of violence or drama. Lisping Man is punished for masturbating in his room, by having his hand forced into a toaster, for instance.
David escapes and becomes part of the Loner band in the forest where he meets Rachel Weisz. They have to pretend to be a couple to venture into the city for supplies, and David enthusiastically falls into the playacting and kissing. The young woman leader of the Loners is just as strict in her no fraternizing rules as the manager of The Hotel had been with her coupling rules. Farrell and Weisz plot together to escape.
The ending was a fade to black that left you hanging a bit, and was my most unsatisfying moment of the film. The rest was just fantastic. Colin Farrell gained 40 pounds for this movie. He has quite the paunch and “dad bod”. I think he relished being more of a character actor leading man in this film. I thought he was so good, as was the always great Rachel Weisz.
This film is not for everyone. But if you love absurd surreal “Sundance” kinds of movies, this will be right up your alley. Four and a half stars out of five.