In The Lobster, a bleak comedy set in a future Ireland, the world is being run by what can only be described as an authoritarian dating service. Anyone who is single for more than 45 days is turned into an animal. To help the good citizens of the world remain human, there are terrifying “hotels” where singles go to be reeducated, their arms bound and movements restricted, as they learn why it’s wrong to be alone—and are given the opportunity to meet eligible mates. Despite its fantastical premise, The Lobster nails the often dark emotional reality of dating life in our world.
Colin Farrell plays David, a sad, awkward man whose wife has just left him. Radiating discomfort and kind of blank desperation, he arrives at the hotel with a fluffy dog who turns out to be his brother. The hotel owner recites the rules to him—masturbation is forbidden, and residents can earn extra days of singlehood if they manage to shoot runaways who have fled into the forest. She also requires him to choose which animal he’ll become. Looking uneasily at his brother/dog, David says he’d like to be a lobster “because they have blue blood” and live for a very long time. Somehow, this sums up everything about David—weird and bug-eyed, but with skin made of armor and very sharp claws.
As he undergoes anti-singles conditioning and endures terrible dance parties, David forms shaky friendships with two of his fellow inmates/romance-seekers, the confused and angry John C. Reilly and tragic widower Ben Whishaw. The acting here is superbly understated, with everyone walking a razor’s edge between pathos and comedy.
Released last year in the UK, The Lobster became a critical hit and is finally making its way to the States this weekend. It’s the first English-language offering from Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, who is known for his reality-bending movies Dogtooth and Alps, about troubled human relationships.
One of the clever tropes of The Lobster is that everyone seems to believe that people are “suited” for each other if they have the same ailments. David is near-sighted, so he has to find someone with glasses or contacts. Whishaw falls for a girl who gets nosebleeds. so he smashes his face until he gets nosebleeds too. This arbitrary notion of what makes two people a good fit is uncomfortably familiar for anyone who has ticked boxes on an online dating profile, hoping to find the perfect match in a database populated by random attributes like “body type” and “favorite music.”
David’s efforts to hook up are bumbling and funny at first, but eventually land him in a situation that is so horrific he has no choice but to risk death to flee the hotel. In the forest, surrounded by an odd range of animals we presume are all former singles, he meets a group of subversives called the Loners. Led by an angry pro-singles activist (a seriously scary Léa Seydoux), the group swears off all forms of physical affection and plans sneak attacks on couples. In one memorable scene, they go on a mission to break up couples, holding them at gunpoint in their homes and forcing them to question their love for one another.
Among the Loners is Rachel Weisz, who is terrific as the unnamed woman whose social awkwardness and prickly savagery match David’s own. The two are immediately drawn to each other, sneaking away from the Loners to make out—and make plans for a shaky, seemingly impossible future. Can they really have a genuine romance in a world where the government mandates love and subversives try to smash it? Is it even possible for people to form an authentic emotional connection when they’re under such tremendous social pressure? Like all the questions raised by this flick, these are things we should be asking ourselves, about our own lives. Though it starts out as satire, The Lobster eventually punches you in the gut so hard that you’ll be freaked out for a long time afterwards.