Love is a funny thing. And sometimes it's a very, very, very, very strange thing.
In a year that is brimming with indie originality- anyone hear about the upcoming farting corpse drama?- Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster might already deserve an award for original premise. The underlying narrative, while conveyed far more subtly in the movie, can be described thusly: in an unsettling society where it is illegal to be unmarried, people who have been single for "too long" are sent a remote hotel. There, they have 45 days to meet and pair up with someone special, and are eventually sent back into society as a married couple.
If anyone fails to do so within a month and a half, they are permanently transformed into the animal of their choice. Hence the name.
What could a filmmaker do with such a ludicrous premise? Craft a black comedy that's one of the best films of year (if not the best), it turns out. The Lobster is satire at its most incisive, comedy at its most disturbingly dark, and romance as strange as love actually is.
Colin Farrell (plus fifty pounds) is David, a man whose wife recently left him. Upon checking into the hotel with his dog- formerly his brother and past resident- he is asked whether he is heterosexual or homosexual. Remembering an isolated sexual experience with a man from his college days, David requests a bisexual option. The hotel doesn't have one.
Let the comical metaphors for real life dating begin! From that early point, it's clear that Lanthimos is wryly satirizing the silly process of pursuing romance in our society. The allegories vary in their level of decipherable obscurity, but they all strike the perfect balance: brilliant enough to prompt deep thought; never obvious enough to insult the viewer.
For another early example: every morning, each male heterosexual individual in the hotel must undergo manual stimulation before interacting with female residents. A maid comes in, rubs her bottom on the man's genitals for a time, and leaves just before he could orgasm- but the men are strictly forbidden from finishing the job themselves, or masturbating whatsoever. Apply that metaphor to specific aspects of modern society, you smart reader.
Much of The Lobster is equally ridiculous and gratuitous, and it uplifts the satire to a surreal level. One of the earliest known works of satire is Jonathan Swift's 1729 essay A Modest Proposal. In it, the author suggests that the problems of overpopulation and hunger in Ireland could both be solved with one swift solution: eat the children! The essay is timeless and works so well because it's an insane idea... but technically, it would work. Therefore, attention is called to a dire situation through satirical means.
The Lobster operates on a similarly high level. Of course romantic relationships don't work like they do in the film... but sans the extremes, don't they really? Lanthimos' argument is uncomfortably convincing.
The director/writer also seems to have some fun poking holes in the conventions of cinematic romance. From partners finding each other due to "defining characteristics" to exploration of the chasm between single and married people that romantic movies widen, the film works on an even deeper level of commentary.
Lanthimos' impressively developed world is a cold one. Most of the human beings in the film behave and speak like robots whose sole purpose is to efficiently convey the film's themes, rather than be real people. This is completely intentional though: not only do the themes shine accordingly, it's downright hilarious to watch the emotionally stunted characters strive for feeling in such a weird world (a familiar feeling indeed!) It's charming in a dreadful sort of way. The Lobster plays out like the antithesis of a romance film.
Perhaps the film's most surprising accomplishment, then, is that a believable romance springs to life from the amusing mire. It's remarkable how The Lobster makes one analyze and scoff at the pitfalls of dating relationships before organically restoring belief in them. The movie's handling of this transition is a tad rough- the pacing slows considerably halfway through when the gears change- but the result is endearing, thoughtful, and all too real.
If you can stand a certain level of controlled madness, The Lobster is a rare breed of intellectual entertainment. Give it a go, you lonely animal.