Listen. In an alternative world, it is forbidden to be single. Loners are rounded up and brought to hotels, where they have 45 days to partner up inside the hotel. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their own choice and set free in the woods.
And that’s just the start of it. The Lobster might not be the best movie I have seen this year, but it surely is the strangest. The story of the movie is not exactly meant to be taken seriously; the movie already does that for you, and you can laugh and marvel about it. It is a type of humor to take a completely ridiculous idea, and to take it completely seriously. And if you do it cleverly enough, you’ll have a funny story and you’ll see all sorts of metaphors and messages about real life. It takes a certain vision, an amount of guts and an imagination to make a movie like The Lobster.
Saying anything about The Lobster feels like spoiling it, and it is best to go into this movie without knowing anything about the story. I’ll be extra careful not to spoil in this review, which is hard, because it is the kind of story to talk about. To start with, The Lobster inhabits one of those scary worlds in which no-one shows any emotions. At first I thought that the main character (Colin Farrell in a pudgy, middle-aged role) was a bit autistic but then I realized that every character talked without emotions. As the film progresses, it gets a bit tiresome.
Strangely, in such a world, relationships are given the greatest importance, but they are so marked by rules that none of it feels right. Underneath the humor of the movie lies an undercurrent of fear and loneliness that feels quite oppressive. In effect, the movie treats peer pressures and expectations about relationships as institutionalized laws. In our world, if you are single, society sometimes feels catered towards couples, and the single person is seen as an object of pity. And if you are part of a couple, there is this expectation to show the outside world that you are a happy couple and that the feelings are very much alive. In The Lobster, crossing these social pressures is punishable.
There is a sharp divide between the first and second half of the movie, and the two halves mirror each other. Without saying too much, the first half is about forcing feelings where none exists, and the second half is about hiding feelings when they are not allowed. They take too long about it though. The second half begins to drag near the end, especially because of the emotionless talk, and I think 15 minutes should have been cut away. Some shots are held for a long time, to the point that they drain the tension away. I even looked at my watch at one point.
Lots of interesting actors in this movie. Two people who also played in Spectre: Lea Seydoux and Ben Whishaw, and very welcome appearances of John C. Reilly and Rachel Weisz. Lots of background humor and funny dialogue enliven the film. In the Irish forest, strange animals sometimes walk by in the background (people who were transformed). Middle-aged women talk plainly about sexual favors they would do in the hotel to find a partner. The couple that runs the hotel performs awkward theatre plays. Most of the humor is about awkward, uncomfortable situations, so that is a warning in case you don’t like that.
Just watch it, so that we can talk about it. The whole audience laughed every few minutes. Especially the first half is just a constant stream of strangeness and absurdist humor, and it all kind of makes sense. Even though this is a ridiculous world that we are presented, there is some kind of internal logic so that you can almost predict what is going to happen, but not quite. And when strange things happen, first you’re caught off guard but then you think: “oh, right”. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year.