The Lobster is ostensibly inhabiting a similar off-kilter cinematic space to Richard Ayoade's The Double or Spike Jonze's Her. Yorgos Lanthimos' English language debut is what can be best described as a skewed-surrealist sci-fi; a film has an an alt-modern setting where a traditionally emotional-driven element of society is treated as a cognitive one.
The general conceit is a world where not being in love is forbidden. Singletons and recent-divorcees are sent off to an authoritarian hotel where guests have forty-five days to find love among the inhabitants before they get turned into an animal (of their choice, at least). The metropolitan areas have security guards who check licences of people who walk about alone and in the woods a gang of loners live a simple life, albeit it hunted by hotel's inmates.
It's an idea with delicious social parallels ripe to be explored and, for the first half at least, that's exactly what you get. Colin Farrell's pudgy architect arrives at the hotel and alongside a lisping John C. Reilly and limping Ben Whishaw they come up against hilarious and disturbing restrictions by Olivia Coleman's manager. Like all good satires, the various facets of this set up have a plethora of real world applications that get suitably explored; is a relationship the only way to live a normal life and at what point does self-adjustment to achieve that become bare-faced lying?
Throughout characters speak in blunt, truthful phrases (initially seemingly because of the strict rules of the hotel, over time it appears to be a more universal trait) and view relationship suitability in terms of whether two people share a singular "defining" feature (think Match.com algorithms en masse). The simplistic dialogue and uninflected delivery is perfectly pitched, getting across the repression and romantic misunderstanding of the world without stopping you getting behind the characters as actual people. Whishaw is particularly skilled at this, coming across through manners as a typically nervy character, despite his actions showing him as anything but.
A divergence away from the hotel later on leads Farrell, and the entire film, onto a totally different track, showing, among other things, how the antagonism between those seeking love and those striking out alone actually hides two very similar ethoses. Sadly, despite gifting Rachel Weisz a nice role, it never quite gels and meanders a bit off point; the humour is reduced and you're left longing for a conclusion to more than just Farrel's arc, which is achieved with a heavily ambiguous ending that doesn't feel totally deserved.
It's still a well-acted and beautifully shot (Ireland looks great throughout) section, and the events fit the world introduced in the first hour, so this doesn't totally waylay The Lobster. Still, from the promise of the earlier half it can't help but be something of a disappointment.
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