AFI Fest Film Review: The Lobster (★★★)

The LobsterThe general consensus about “The Lobster” seems to be that you either love it or hate it, but I find myself firmly in the middle. There’s a lot to like about this weird film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, but also a lot of frustration.

Set in a dystopian world that looks vaguely like our time, the world of “The Lobster” is one in which singleness is forbidden. Anyone who finds him or herself single following a divorce or death or any other major life event has 45 days to fall in love again or be turned into an animal. People from The City go to The Hotel for their chance at love. When David (Colin Farrell) finds himself suddenly single, he takes his dog, who is actually his brother, and checks into The Hotel. After his chance at coupledom takes a very bad turn, he runs away from The Hotel and finds himself living in The Woods with The Loners where he meets the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) and falls in love, which has serious consequences among the group of intentionally loveless fugitives.

The story is definitely unique. And it’s one that unfolds slowly. There isn’t a moment where all the rules of this strange society are laid out in perfect detail. Instead, the audience is gradually drawn to an understanding of how things work, although we’re never told why. The only hint at any sort of a reason comes in a throwaway comment that goes almost unnoticed, when the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) says something about animals going extinct.

Through careful dialog, some very engaging performances (most notably from Farrell, his friends played by John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw, and also Léa Seydoux as the leader of the Loners), and a stark landscape, The Lobster has several laugh out loud moments. David’s world is passionless, where love connections are based on superficial commonalities like short-sightedness or nosebleeds. This makes perfect sense in a society where romantic attachment is a means of survival and desperate singles will go to great lengths to find a match. And Lanthimos himself goes to great lengths to demonstrate that real happiness doesn’t exist in the extremes of falsified love or absolute celibacy, but that it is somewhere in the middle, when people find their partners in a less rigid and structured way.

Where this film flounders, though, is in its inability to find a direction or a message and to come to any sort of logical conclusion. The movie ends. It just ends. In the middle of a scene where any of three things could realistically happen. And instead of leaving the audience to draw its own conclusion about what a choice means for the characters, the audience is left dangling, wondering what just happened and what, if anything, was the point. It is this lack of resolution that leaves The Lobster good, but not great. It is enjoyable, but in the end, unsatisfying.