In his English language debut Yorgos Lanthimos constructs a dark and biting satire dissecting the way humans view relationships, both romantic and societal. Colin Farrell stars as David, a defeated and newly single man who finds himself checking into a Hotel where he is bluntly tasked with finding love among the other tenants. We soon learn what Mr. Farrell already knows. Hotel guests who are unable to find a partner during their stay will be promptly (and possibly grotesquely) transformed into an animal of their choosing. David brings living proof of this reality with him in the form of his brother, a border collie who once lived in the Hotel and failed the task.
The atmosphere in the Hotel is businesslike as guests bounce around each other looking for true love during various high stakes icebreakers. To facilitate pairing, guests are encouraged to find someone similar to them. A man with a limp must find a woman with a limp. One who suffers from constant nosebleeds seeks out someone with a similar affliction. In the hotel these eccentricities are embraced insofar as they allow for coupling. Even if a guest fails and is turned into an animal they should not fret. The hotel manager explains to David early in his stay:
Now the fact that you will turn into an animal if you fail to fall in love with someone during your stay here is not something that should upset you or get you down. Just think, as an animal you’ll have a second chance to find a companion. But, even then, you must be careful; you need to choose a companion that is a similar type of animal to you. A wolf and a penguin could never live together, nor could a camel and a hippopotamus. That would be absurd.
Here rises one of the film’s central themes as it questions the depth of most relationships. How meaningful can a relationship be when its rooted in superficial similarities? In The Lobster these connections are emphasized seemingly above all else. It’s not hard to make the leap from the film’s internal logic to modern dating apps and websites with their stripped down interfaces highlighting shared friends or interests.
The Lobster has as much to say about our relationship with society as it does with our romantic relationships with each other. Unlike in similar movies which portray rigid institutions as malevolent or suffocating, the Hotel (and the structures outside the walls of the resort) are openly accepted by those living in the world of The Lobster. There is no McMurphy pounding on the asylum walls or a Nurse Ratched laying down the law. The equivalent characters here would be David for McMurphy and the Hotel Manager for Ratched. For much of the movie David seems engaged in the Hotel process and freely submits. And while the audience may be alarmed by the Hotel manager, guests remain unaffected by her methods or matter-of-factness. Here and elsewhere Lanthimos hints at our own willingness to give into structure and the societal norms, even those that seem unjust.
This theme is explored in the film’s final third which takes place in the forest outside of the Hotel. Along with the flock of unusual animals roaming among the trees lives a group of escaped Hotel guests who hide from the watchful eye of both the Hotel and the police who would round them up as illegally single individuals. The juxtaposition of the Hotel and the forest is not as simple as you would expect and in some ways plays out as a miniature version of the jungle in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Despite their apparent freedoms, the rebels in the woods willingly submit themselves to a new set of rules and structure. Even when escaping one oppressive environment we can’t help but establish another one.
Lanthimos’s satire plumps deep and benefits from extraordinary work by his cast. Colin Farrell is nearly unrecognizable in the lead as the passive and docile David. Admittedly I’m not as up to date on Mr. Farrell’s filmography but I can’t think of any of his performances I like better than his work here. Likewise, Rachel Weisz turns in a deft and striking performance despite a late introduction. Their work along with the rest of the cast including John C Reilly, Léa Seydoux, and Ben Whishaw give texture to Lanthimo’s world and help it to linger long after viewing.
If you have a moment, head over to the movie’s website HERE. While there you can take a quiz to find out what animal you should be if you find yourself a failed guest of the Hotel. The site advised me to choose between a Penguin, a Lobster, or an Ant. I went with the Penguin (even though I’m a terrible swimmer). I like to think this is “an excellent choice”: