With intentionally languid brushstrokes, “The Lobster,” from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos in his English language debut, creates a challenging moral setting that twists the realities and consequences of two human conundrums and fears: What happens when you are single and what happens when you die. His muse at the center is Colin Farrell in arguably the most understated performance of his career. With more talent and a high concept at play, “The Lobster” is missing the charm to tie it all together.
In an alternate modern world, the rules of society demand that people be married to a significant other. Anyone who is not with a partner, including the single or divorced, is sent away to “The Hotel” for a rigorous reeducation course in courtship. They are more or less interred there for 45 days under strict supervision with odd setups, practices, and punishments that maintain prophylactic order and control. If they are successful, the new couples go onto further trials and rejoin society. If they don’t, they are transformed into an animal of their choice and cast back out to the world for survival.
Farrell is David, a sad bespectacled man whose wife has left him and his former “brother” is now his beloved pet dog. He enters The Hotel already defeated and has selected the title animal as his potential fate. David lacks the initiative of the other chaps he lightly befriends, including nameless characters played by John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw. The only two ways to extend one’s time before demise are gaining a new lover or successfully capturing “Loners,” runaways from The Hotel, that populate the surrounding wooded countryside.
When David runs out of time, he escapes to join the Loners, a stern bunch, led by French star Lea Seydoux. They hark on survival and forbid all romance. Such new boundaries trouble David when he becomes smitten with an equally demoralized soul, played by Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz, who also narrated “The Lobster” and its thought process.
“Nuanced” and “Colin Farrell” are two words not usually mentioned in the same sentence. The Irish actor comports himself well in this very mature role. His uncomfortable glances and melancholy permeate “The Lobster.” He’s a fascinating central subject, even if the random quirk of the film holds him back from fully blossoming. The same goes for Weisz. As two peas in a depressed pod, you pine for a romance to climb out of this despondency.
That hope is buried by a mortifying tone from Lanthimos and his collaborators. Ominous and dampening music beats from first-time feature composer Johnnie Burn thrusts itself into moments of violence and stress. “The Lobster” classifies a very dark comedy, so don’t expect buoyant humor to help. Too often, the deadpan eliminates any charm and the awkward overshadows anything endearing. Though creatively artful and ambitiously interesting in premise and delivery, the dystopian abstraction and openendedness of this film will be too vapid and absurd for most, harming your overall appreciation.
Lesson #1: The virile resiliency of a lobster— Did you know a lobster can live over 100 years and be fertile to reproduce its entire life? How about that? You learn useful trivia in every movie.
Lesson #2: Some punishments are worse than others— It doesn’t take long to see the depths of this disturbed future society. With tranquilizer dart hunts, the fate of lost humans turned into animals. and harsh public punishments, this is sick puppy stuff not an extroverted dating challenge like “The Bachelor.”
Lesson #3: It is harder to pretend you don’t have feelings when you do than it is to pretend to have feelings when you don’t— This is pretend to care versus pretend not to care. People can see through those who don’t care. They can spot the lack of investment and commitment. By contrast, when you care about something, that emotion and spirit is almost impossible to hide.