There’s a place deep inside every person’s heart – buried under the slimy exterior, and further down than any artery or ventricle can reach – where our most intense feelings are kept. In the striation separating our fondest loves from our darkest hates forms a peculiar substance, one that roils and boils with the heat of your cockles. And for every person there’s a particular sight or circumstance that allows this substance to be released, converted during escape from the body into an impolite, uncontrollable cackle. The Lobster, the newest film from Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos, taps this vein of wicked laughter hiding in your chest like no other, and cements the director as a truffle hog for black humor.
With staccato pacing and unpredictable framing, The Lobster lands depraved jokes and shocking violence as winding punches to your gut. The pureness of your laughter is often juxtaposed against the impurity of the gags, which are usually bloody, vulgar, or at the very least callus. In my case, all it took was one quick cut, and an even quicker kick to someone’s shins for Lanthimos to rip the breath out of me like a Whoopie Cushion smashed with a sledgehammer. Instinctively, I felt a twinge of guilt over laughing so hard at something so childish and uncivilized, but that seems to be the point.
The Lobster is an inky and bitter cup of coffee, full of suicide, stabbings, and cruelty towards humans and animals alike. But the eyes it uses to find the moral hairline fractures in your funny bone are the same that view these weaknesses as not just what make us human, but individuals too. The Lobster is also a purposefully constructed smorgasbord of eccentricity, similarly so to Lanthimos’ last film, Dogtooth. In that film, a trio of adult siblings is unknowingly held captive inside the walls of their family home, having been raised on lies about the outside world by their overly protective and shamelessly manipulative parents.
The Lobster expands on Dogtooth’s lyrical warping of social dynamics, envisioning a near-future where being married isn’t just accepted practice, but the law. Newly single, widowed, and divorced adults of The City are required to spend 45 days in The Hotel, a bucolic inn populated by other loners, and a dictatorial staff. The singles are given two options: find a mate and return to The City as a couple, or let the 45 days expire…at which point, they’ll be released into the wild after having a procedure that turns them into the animal of their choice.
Could such an operation, which takes place in a chamber of The Hotel informatively marked as the “Transformation Room,” possibly be real? Everyone seems to think so, and is otherwise unperturbed by The Hotel’s stranger practices, which include sexual “encouragement” by the staff, and the routine hunting of roaming singles in a nearby forest. Few residents seem all that worried about being turned into beasts should they fail to form a pair bond; if you can’t make it in this taxonomy, well, maybe it would be easier to change your body than your personality.
David (Colin Ferrell), a sad sack returning to The Hotel after a recent breakup, gives the film its title via his crustacean choice of replacement species. Looking like he borrowed Matt Damon’s mustache and paunch from The Informant!, Ferrell, like the rest of the cast, uses bone-dry delivery to remove any trace of moisture The Lobster might have picked up from shooting in his rainy homeland of Ireland. As if the internationally eclectic cast were all working in English for the first time, dialogue moves in a halting and brusque fashion, the characters meaning exactly what they say at all times, no matter how bizarre.
As with Dogtooth, each new quirk of twisted logic introduced just adds to your anthropological curiosity, even as you’re never sure whether a wry joke or burst of violence is waiting around the next bend. The second half of The Lobster is less viscerally stimulating than the first, as David tiptoes into a relationship with a forest-dweller played by Rachel Weisz, she delivering some of the movie’s most quotable lines in constant deadpan narration. As a strange and sometimes brutal shaggy dog tale (though not that of David’s brother, who’s been turned into a Border Collie), The Lobster works like gangbusters. Lanthimos, and reteaming Dogtooth co-writer Efthymis Filippou follow a thematically denser and more ambiguous direction instead, making the final act less immediately striking, but more worthy of chewing over on repeat viewing.
And rewatch The Lobster you almost certainly shall. A second viewing would seem necessary to catch every clever detail hidden in Lanthimos’ expansive, unbalanced frames, and another still would be needed to appreciate the uniformly excellent work done by the equally expansive and unbalanced cast (MVPs: Dogtooth’s Angeliki Papoulia and Olivia Colman as the hotel manager). The average person would need years of self-improvement and reflection to not laugh at whatever sick gag The Lobster will have them roaring at – good thing it recommends you forget about change, and instead, find who else in the theatre is howling along with you.
A biting and idiosyncratic combination of romance, comedy, and body horror, The Lobster is one wonderful, oddball chimera of a movie.