Claws for alarm
The Lobster is the latest movie, and the first in English, by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. Colin Farrell plays David, a recently divorced schlub in a society where singlehood is not tolerated. David must report to a singles resort, where he has 45 days to find a life partner; if he fails, he will be turned into an animal. David tells the hotel’s manager (Olivia Colman) that his choice, if it should come to that, is to become a lobster.
David can postpone the deadline on the resort’s daily hunts, combing the woods looking for “Loners” who have escaped the hotel or otherwise eluded the sterile society of the city. They shoot the Loners with tranquilizer darts, hauling them back to the hotel to meet their fate. For each Loner they bag, residents add a day to their stay.
After a failed attempt to pair with someone identified only as Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), David escapes into the woods and joins the Loners, whose leader (Léa Seydoux) enforces celibate isolation as brutally as society does pairing off. In this situation, David is drawn to a Short-Sighted Woman (she doesn’t get a name either) played by Rachel Weisz, who is likewise drawn to him. Why the two of them couldn’t simply hook up and report back to the hotel, announcing that they’d found each other, is a question never addressed in Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s script; their point seems to be that David is first damned when he doesn’t, then damned when he does.
Is David living in a cruel society, or are we simply watching a cruel movie? The Lobster begins with an act of unexplained violence— a woman stalks out into a field and shoots a donkey dead. Then Lanthimos settles into a rhythm of relentless tedium punctuated by similar moments of cruelty—usually to animals but sometimes to people. (Or maybe, given the premise, to both.)
Except for David, characters don’t have names, or even personalities, only single defining characteristics—John C. Reilly as Lisping Man, Ben Whishaw as Limping Man, Jessica Barden as Nosebleed Woman. When workshop presenters at the hotel demonstrate the difference between singlehood and coupledom, one looks as unappealing as the other. Even when David and his Loner mate supposedly fall in love, there’s no tenderness or even fleeting joy, not for a moment (although Weisz somehow manages to sneak a couple of half-smiles past her watchful director). David and the woman never really have anything, so they never have anything to lose.
The Lobster has everything we look for in a satire except the one thing it must have: a lively wit. Without wit, satire is merely meanness of spirit; without liveliness, it’s just hectoring. David may contemplate becoming a lobster, but Lanthimos has already made him a boar.