By Richard von Busack
There’s merit to The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimose’s morbid satire of how individuals are pressured to become couples. Anyone raised in a traditional family, who endured ceaseless nagging to get married and produce some kids, would find this savory … for a while. We can utter some hollow laughter watching the slow crushing of David (Colin Farrell). This depressed man, with a brushy mustache and a noticeable paunch, is numb from being rendered single after 11 years and one month of marriage.
A vaguely-sketched dictatorship, under which David lives, forces all of its single citizens to spend a holiday in a rainy coastal hotel. It’s run by a cruel, all-seeing Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman, the movie’s standout). Guests have less than a month to hook up with some other unattached single person. Violators will be rendered, by some unseen, reverse Dr. Moreau surgery, into the animal of their choice. David has chosen a lobster, perhaps in honor of T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock’s desire to be “ragged claws. Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
When not stewing in hot tubs or roaming the grounds, the guests head out to the woods to hunt down the “loners” with guns and tranquilizer darts—they’re singles who escaped the cruel regime. Lanthimose cuts off the pleasure of revolution. David’s life as a guerilla is as bleak as life in the hotel; the merciless rebel leader (Léa Seydoux) insists on celibacy, with corporal punishment doled out to would-be lovers. But David at last finds a woman (Rachel Weisz) he can love and who loves him.
The Lobster is stuck in a zone between Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and some modest Kurt Vonnegut concept, wavering between theatrical conceits and animal-harming cinematic realism. It’s convincing, the way the characters go after each other like lobsters in a barrel. But this fable has no payoff—at least, no payoff larger than the Hotel Manager’s line to a successful couple: “You will be assigned children. That usually helps. A lot.”
The Lobster opens at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center on Friday, May 27.