In a somewhat benign dystopia (The City) all people who are not in a relationship must go to a resort for single people. They have forty-five days to fall in love and become a couple, or they will be transformed into an animal. Yorgos Lanthimos (previous film: Dogtooth) brings us films that have very strange settings and allows us to see what seem to be fairly normal people in bizarre situations. So it is with The Lobster. This is a very different kind of romantic comedy than most viewers expect.
David (Colin Farrell) is recently divorced and must check in to The Hotel and try to find a suitable mate. You would think people would be going crazy to pair up, but there is such a lack of emotion in this strange world that we’re not surprised that there are so many who fail. As David begins to close in on his end date, he manages to escape to the woods where there is a group of “Loners”, people who choose not to follow society’s rules about being in pairs and carry on a guerrilla war. There are rules to being in The Loners, including no flirting, but soon David is attracted to “Short Sighted Woman” (Rachel Weisz). Whereas in The Hotel such attraction would be encouraged, amidst The Loners, they risk being ostracized, so must develop their own way of showing affection.
There is a wonderful supporting cast that includes Olivia Colman (Hotel Manager), Lea Seydoux (Loner Leader), and John C. Reilly (Lisping Man). David is the only character with an actual name; the others are defined by their roles or their flaws.
For those unfamiliar with Lanthimos (and since this is his first film in English, that will be most people), the kind of quirky world he has created might be compared to the films of Wes Anderson, although Lanthimos uses a more subtle and drier sense of humor. Here that translates into an entertaining look at what it means to love and be in love in a world where loving is not so much a joy, but a chore. For those in The Hotel, love must be found to survive, but that means it is not something that we experience so much as something that must be accomplished (or perhaps even faked). For David it is only in the freedom of the forest among the Loners that he finally finds love, but then it is forbidden. David and Short Sighted Woman must forge their own way to finding the joy that love represents.
The film gives us a chance to consider the expectations of society that we fit a certain mold in our relationships. If we aren’t paired up, if we aren’t a couple, if we don’t meet certain criteria, we are outsiders. But then it seems the outsiders have their own set of rules. They expect conformity within their nonconformity. Trying to fit love into any set of rules may lead us to miss the kind of happiness that we find through the discovery of what makes any love unique.
Photos courtesy of A24