It’s helpful of director Yorgos Lanthimos to begin “The Lobster” with the deadpan roadside assassination of a donkey—if you’re able to chuckle at that sequence you’re in good shape for the rest of the film.
Like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Lobster” is a representation of a dystopian but plausible future, a parody of our times—but just barely. The slain equine lies on road to the Hotel, an intensive relationship-building retreat where single people are sent from the City to find their life partners. Singletons have only 45 days to find a mate—extensions are granted for those who hunt down and tranquilize “Loners” from the Woods around the Hotel—or they are turned into an animal of their choice.
This arrangement is a natural progression of our cultural obsession with having shared traits with our perfect matches—it’s like “The Bachelor” meets “The Most Dangerous Game” (a reality show that is probably in development at ABC right now).
One of the forlorn Hotel guests is David (Colin Farrell, somehow looking even more hangdog in spectacles and a neat mustache) who must find a shortsighted partner. He minds a dog who was, until recently, his human brother and decides that if he must be an animal he will be a lobster because they’re “blue-blooded, like an aristocrat.”
He makes great/awful friends, like the Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) who fancies a guest whose nose bleeds and thus smacks his own schnozz on hard objects so she notices him. The pair fall “very much in love,” which is more than can be said for poor John C. Reilly, who plays the Lisping Man. With much ineptness, he attempts to find a lady with a speech impediment and faces severe punishment for masturbation (it involves a kitchen appliance and screaming).
The Hotel staff treat the guests to insane play-acted scenes of coupledom and sing a ravishingly bizarre rendition of the Gene Pitney chestnut “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart.” As his time runs short, David unwisely decides to woo the best Loner huntress of the lot—Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia, as astonishing here as in Lanthimos’s indelible 2009 film “Dogtooth”). To him she delivers the best line of 2016 thus far—after David’s watched her seemingly choke to death on an olive, she revives herself and tells him, “I think we are a match.” Regrettably, they find they are not.
And David, to avoid a crustacean transformation, retreats to the group of Loners in the Woods. He finds their freedom is rigidly enforced, though self pleasure and listening to EDM on Discmans is permitted. The Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux, lashing followers with lethal looks) does not permit romances and has her guerrillas dig their own graves in preparation for a lonely end. Between raids on the Hotel that amusingly puncture the love matches there, David meets the Loner of his dreams—the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz, who also narrates the film, giving an exact transcription of every bumbling, sincere, insipid line of dialogue).
Indeed the writing is magnificent, embracing the triteness of our advice for lovers—it often sounds like the ham-fisted instructions on flirtation lifted from WikiHow articles. Even with these restraints, Farrell and Weisz have real chemistry and there is a shocking poignancy to their doomed affair.
Those who have seen the ending of Lathimos’s “Dogtooth” understand it would be difficult to come up with a more excruciating denouement than that one. But he can, he absolutely can. You will flinch first at this comedy—it’s as cool as they come but the blood is warm and bright.