Title: The Lobster
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Major Players: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux
Out Of Five: 3.5
Every film festival has its oddities and, for the time being at least, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is definitely the London Film Festival’s odd ball. The imaginative poster shows something different is definitely on the cards, there’s the enigmatic title and the fact that it’s the LFF gala film for the Dare strand. So what exactly are we getting?
It’s another dystopian setting, but one devoid of YAs and it certainly wouldn’t appeal to them. This is in the near future and society demands that everybody has to be part of a couple: from what we see, it also has to be straight. Anybody who finds themselves a “loner”, as they are dubbed, is compelled to check into a hotel where they have just 40 days to find a new partner. At the outset, they have to decide what animal they want to become in case it “doesn’t work out”. Sad architect, David (Colin Farrell), whose wife has just left him, has decided he will be a lobster ……
His rationale is that lobsters live for a long time, stay fertile – and he also likes the sea. The frighteningly cold manager of the hotel, played by Olivia Colman, commends his choice. Many people choose to be a dog – in fact, David’s brother did just that and still lives with him, even sharing his room at the hotel – but a lobster is an unusual choice. The Lisping Man (John C Reilly) intends to be a parrot, which Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) dismisses as ridiculous because of his speech impediment. And, yes, David is the only character with a proper name rather than a title.
It’s a hideous society, a cold world where people yearn for genuine closeness and intimacy but, because coupledom is forced upon them by law, all they have is isolation and distance. The Limping Man has only been widowed for six days before he arrives in the hotel to find another partner and he does but, in this grotesque version of speed dating, it’s under false pretenses.
The film mixes elements of science fiction and fantasy with a bleak humour to produce a satire on attitudes to relationships, the emphasis on being part of a couple and the positives and negatives of being single (such as trying to massage cream into your back by yourself and never quite being able to reach the spot where the cream needs to go). And there’s also an element of horror in there as well: the hotel guests going in search of loners and shooting them with tranquiliser guns is simply grotesque.
Yet, for all that, it hits a brick wall once David escapes the hotel to join a group of rebel loners living in the forest, surrounded by all manner of animals including dogs, peacocks, flamingos, camels and pigs. We all know where they’ve come from. In itself, it’s a natural move, but then he falls in love with the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) as quickly and for just as feeble reasons as he would have done in the hotel. Yet, for some reason, their relationship seems to have more of a future. Doesn’t it?
I’ve never rated Farrell as an actor, but this is one of his better performances: mournful, paunchy and with the type of wide eyed innocence usually associated with Father Dougal. Or perhaps it’s just his accent. Even more impressive is Olivia Colman as the hotel manager with ice running through her veins and who is never less than three feet away from her husband. Whishaw’s Limping Man is equally scary, but in a different way: he’s so desperate to make a connection with somebody that he physically hurts himself.
Distilled to its essence, The Lobster is about relationships and the pressure to conform. If we thought that being single had become more acceptable, this tells you otherwise. The film, without doubt, is an oddity but that’s part of its appeal and is one of the reasons you keep watching. But it’s a film with one idea and that idea eventually runs out.
The Lobster is at the London Film Festival on Tuesday, 13 and Thursday, 15 October and released nationwide on Friday, 16 October. It’s also reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 15 October.