When it comes to movies that defy easy descriptions, writer/director Charlie Kaufman is usually at the top of the list. His absurdist films — Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — go places most other filmmakers would never dream of, much less actually put on film.
However, if The Lobster is any indication, Kaufman may now have competition in that subgenre, in the form of Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. Set in a world where being in a relationship is not just the ideal but the mandate, The Lobster centers on David (Colin Farrell), who checks into a type of relationship rehab facility following the death of his wife.
But the men and women who check in can’t stay indefinitely; if they fail to find a suitable partner within 45 days, they will be turned into an animal. They can earn more days by hunting in a nearby forest for “loners,” single people who choose to live in the wild rather than live by the rules of the society.
There’s much more to the film than that, but you really have to see it to understand its peculiar rhythm and style. One of the film’s defining traits — virtually every character speaks in an emotionless, matter-of-fact monotone — sounds awful on paper, but is often hilarious, especially when someone nonchalantly says something like, “I was masturbating behind the tree over there.”
There are many equally funny lines throughout the film, as well as a number of heartbreaking ones. The allegorical way in which Lanthimos puts a focus on society’s expectations is fascinating, even if the methods he uses lead to a multitude of WTF moments.
Farrell commits fully to the role, eschewing his normal movie-star good looks by putting on a good 20 to 30 pounds and sporting an ordinary mustache and haircut. The look enhances the odd delivery of dialogue, making it a fully realized performance even if you can’t relate to him at all.
Also great in supporting roles are Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, and others. One would imagine that the experience of making the movie would be almost as strange as watching it, but everybody involved seems to have given themselves over to the wonder of the work.
You may not see a weirder movie than The Lobster all year long, but if you go in with the right mindset, it has as many rewards as any straightforward mainstream film.