The Lobster

The Lobster ★★★★½

In his latest feature, The Lobster, Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos continues his trend of wickedly irreverent social experimentation, dressing down the things society holds in most sacred. In The Lobster, Lanthimos satirizes society's obsession with coupledom and marriage. In this dystopia, government interference into people's lives runs amok as single people are checked into a hotel for a 45-day stay during which they must pair up for marriage or be turned into an animal of their choosing.

Much of The Lobster's deadpan humour (and it's a very funny movie) comes from Lanthimos' script, which nails the surrealism of this society with an absurdist's eye. The meticulous composition of his shots feels a touch of Kubrick and Wes Anderson, but the construction of social interactions recalls Luis Buñuel. The benefits of coupledom are demonstrated in ridiculous skits performed by hotel staff with the rigid performance of automatons. From the identical uniforms worn by the participants to the forced interactions, the hotel has the coldness and sterility of a corporate retreat, as tacky and unromantic a setting for pairing up as one could think of. Couples who can't get along are threatened with being "assigned" a child. In the polar opposite social model of the "loners," who live in the woods outside the hotel, flirting and touching of any kind is forbidden, which, as the loners' leader (Léa Seydoux) explains, is "why we only dance to electronic music" (one of the film's best jokes that has an even better visual payoff later).

The cast greatly contributes to the effectiveness of the humour, especially a dry Colin Farrell whose "dad-bod" is perhaps the greatest and most subtle critique of the way marriage makes wastes of us. His awkward, dispirited attempts to enter into a forced partnership he (as a recent divorcee) seems totally uninterested in are built on perfect deadpan expressions and comedic timing, like the way he attempts to impress a cold-hearted female guest by saying of a wounded woman that he hopes she dies, and then the brief pause before he one-ups himself by instead wishing her a slow, painful death.

That anyone would choose to become an animal rather than pair off with someone they don't love speaks volumes about the fear of "settling," yet we frequently see animals populate the background of shots. It's funny enough just to see such out-of-place creatures appear, but even more interesting to wonder why certain people might choose different types of animals. David (Colin Farrell) is lauded for the inspired choice of a lobster when "most people just choose a dog." A character known for beautiful hair chooses to be a pony, presumably in order to keep that hair relatively intact in animal form.

Lanthimos has a way of constructing a film that never lets on as to where it is headed, continually surprising. The second half of the film (the one set in the forest with the loners) in which David meets a woman (Rachel Weisz) in whom he is actually interested, drags a bit, but the radical singlehood of the loners' cult makes an interesting contrast to the couple-obsessed environment of the hotel. Both societies are savage mockeries of individual freedoms, one through forced pairing and the other through strict collectivism. In its own way, The Lobster is maybe the most romantic film of the year, though in typical Lanthimos fashion, never simply so. It's also one of the funniest, and further cements Lanthimos as one of the most important social commentators in contemporary film.

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