Early on in Yorgos Lanthimos’ new release, The Lobster, set in a curiously ordinary dystopian future where maintaining social order means controlling human relationships, David (Colin Farrell) finds himself stranded when his wife leaves him for someone else. This break in the pairing doesn’t bode well for David.
He’s forced, according to the laws of the regime in place, to surrender to a “hotel” where he will have 45 days to find a new romantic partner or be transformed into an animal of his choosing.
The daily routine seeks to remind occupants of the necessity of having someone (although not necessarily someone “special” or “The One”) and reinforces this by severely limiting solo activities.
David is intimately familiar with the rules, though, because even before checking into a facility, we see him with a dog that happens to be his older brother. As part of his orientation, a handler informs David that most people choose dogs, leading to the overpopulation of these animals.
David makes the unusual choice of a lobster, if it comes to that for him. Long life and extended mating prowess are the determining factors guiding his decision.
Watching David in those initial scenes with his brother sent me spiraling into memories of myth and magic and European folklore. Those in touch with the supernatural realm (mainly witches and warlocks) sometimes had animal companions called “familiars” that were assumed to be spirit or demon servants.
As much of a sad sack as he is, David and his brother speak to a modern reinterpretation of this notion, especially with the dystopian world’s fixation on human-to-animal transformations.
Of course, it is all predicated on matching and, to a much lesser extent, mating.
I mentioned before that the sense here is less about finding true love and more on forced couplings. The real magic potential in David stems from a dawning desire to settle for nothing short of true romantic love.
His stumbles along the way recall last May’s release Surf from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, the Hip Hop/Jazz-hybrid brainchild of Chance the Rapper. The first verse of the aptly titled “Familiar” from Chance the Rapper spins a story about the romantic difficulties of finding love: “We met in a life where we were both cats / Our owners were neighbors how funny is that / What’s funnier is yours had eight different cats / Same shade of black and I’m blind as a bat.”
Those poignant lyrics speak to the challenges inherent in any search for love, but it also offers a powerful promise to come — if true love is found.
With his clock ticking down to lobsterhood (leaving us to wonder what would happen to his brother — dogs and lobsters don’t make the most natural of associates in the animal kingdom), David comes to realize a need for more than having a plus one. He wants love, which leads him to take drastic steps to achieve it.
Dashing off into the woods, after escaping somewhat violently from the “hotel,” David falls in with a group of rebel loners (led by a stony-faced Léa Seydoux) who strictly adhere to an opposite vision of life than the forced partnering in the city.
What’s a guy like David to do when faced with these two diametrically opposed ideals? Fall in love with a shortsighted woman (Rachel Weisz) who seems like she might actually be the one. But the question becomes just how far David is willing to go for love.
Lanthimos (Dogtooth) has created one of the most surreal love stories ever committed to film, far more intriguing and head-scratching because it renders its future in the blandest of strokes.
In The Lobster, the bottom-line examination of love gets dressed up and framed in curious ways, but willing audiences will enter the familiar emotional landscape, spot Farrell in full character-actor mode doing so much with so little effort and fall headlong in love with the primal humanity on display. (R) Grade: A