Absurdist art is often a dividing point for audiences; either one enjoys it or not. Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film The Lobster is most certainly absurd, and it is absolutely divisive. For audiences who are capable of enjoying style beyond substance, then this is a quirky, charming work of developing a specific tone. For those who require something more concrete, however, this might be a pass.
David (Colin Farrell) takes up residency at The Hotel, a form of mandatory Singles’ Resort with a twist: if its residents do not find a partner within 45 days, they will be transformed into an animal of their choosing. Their only option for delaying their end is by hunting down ‘loners’ (Léa Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, and more) who have escaped The Hotel. Thrown into an awkward situation and with the clock ticking, will David and his friends - a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly) and a man with a limp (Ben Whishaw) - find partners, become animals, or will they attempt an escape of their own?
The film is, of course, packed with symbolism regarding its central themes of love and relationships. The entire plot serves as an exaggeration of courtship and all of its associated desperation, deceit, jealousy, and overall struggles. If this all sounds terribly serious, take comfort: there are also some bright spots of comedy, genuine emotional connection, and devotion.
The biggest issue for some audiences would be the focus on symbolism; every facet of the plot is a calculated effort to reinforce the movie’s themes, and one gets the sense that this is not a character-driven story but one crafted for the sake of thematic import; the notably open ending can attest to that fact. This is not a film made for those who seek pure entertainment or just want to be told a story; instead, this is something to think about and analyze.
To its credit, what there is of a plot flows nicely and is carried well by the cast. Farrell’s varied career (from Phone Booth to Seven Psychopaths and beyond) continues with this interesting character, and Farrell seems to deliver the exact performance Lanthimos wanted; as with the rest of the picture, however, your enjoyment of Farrell’s performance is largely subjective. Special mentions also go to Weisz and Seydoux who deliver the exact performance needed in line with the film, as well as Angeliki Papoulia who is striking as a cold-hearted resident of The Hotel with an outstanding record of violently chasing down loners.
Overall, the plot of Lanthimos’ work is a uniquely absurd journey through the trials of love, exaggerated for the sake of symbolism. From that previous sentence, readers can already get a sense of whether they will enjoy the film: if high-minded, artistic think-pieces are to your liking, then this one is a charming effort; if, instead, it sounds more high-brow and arrogant than what you would enjoy, then this is likely not the film for you. Whether or not you enjoy this film is highly subjective (although this reviewer certainly enjoyed its charm); whether the film is objectively good, however, rests somewhere in the middle.
3 (out of 5)
“The Lobster” is now playing at The Hyland Cinema.
Thomas Vickers is a London-based filmmaker and The Beat Magazine's resident film critic.