The totalitarianism of Tribalism is skewered without anesthetic in the darkly unpleasant satire “The Lobster,” a film about couples and loners and the ways they enforce their norms on others.
Then again, maybe not.
The latest obscure musings by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”) is full of shrewd observations about a world obsessed with everyone EVERYone’s relationship status and applies higher stakes to “We’re a couple” than modern society sanctions.
“The Lobster” is science fiction and social satire, and thanks to blood and bloodless choices, a pretty grim sit-through. Did I mention “unpleasant”? Yes? Just checking.
David, played by Colin Farrell at the pot-bellied onset of middle age, has just been dumped by his wife. That means he must go to this resort hotel in rural Ireland to meet someone new. He just must.
But this is a resort the same way “The Lord of the Flies” was an island vacation. Guests sit at a hundred tables-for-one until they find someone who will allow them to move to tables-for-two. They go to joyless mixers and have passionless sex with the staff as a way of preparing for couplehood.
And they compete with one another in daily dart-gun hunts for “loners,” with each “kill” adding a day to their 45 day stay, thus improving their odds.
Because the consequences of not coupling are dire. You choose an animal you’re content to spend the rest of yours days as upon arrival. Because that’s what they’ll transform you into if you fail. The loners, it is implied, already face this fate. That’s why the forests are populated with flamingos, camels, peacocks, wolves and rabbits. That’s why the world is overrun with cats and dogs.
That’s why David showed up with a lovely sheep dog. It was his brother. “He…didn’t make it.”
David has chosen “Lobster” as his spirit animal. Because “They can live 100 years, they stay fertile the entire time, and they have actual blue blood, just like royalty.”
We don’t have much hope for David. He’s painfully shy, fearful, even when he’s with his new posse, the lisping fellow guest (John C. Reilly) and the limping limp-wristed one (Ben Whishaw).
At least the limper is determined to find somebody, willing to do whatever it takes. David and the lisper seem lost before they begin.
It’s a world where every dismissal, every polite beg-off or rebuffed invitation to dance has life-or-death consequences. The sad “biscuit woman” (Ashley Jenson) lets her desperation and suicidal tendencies show.
The mixer dances, presided over by the singing couple in charge (Olivia Colman, James Finnegan) are like forlorn postcards of a long-faded romantic event. The punishments and humiliations for offenses like masturbation are excruciating, heartless and cruel, just like the hotel’s most “successful” hunter/guest (.Angeliki Papoulia).
Which is why David flees and falls in with a gang of loners, led by the ruthless and just-as-cruel Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux).
The loners have their draconian rules, just like the totalitarian couplehood, where police check lone shoppers for their marital status. Loners in the woods cannot mate.
But in the woods with the loners is where David meets somebody just as short-sighted as he (Rachel Weisz, who narrates the story).
That’s one of the running digs of “The Lobster.” In this world, people are conditioned to look for superficial “compatibilities,” like a computer app. Got a limp? Find a woman with a limp. She gets nosebleeds? Better make sure you get them, too.
Every line sounds like something computer-written with all the feeling synthesized out of it.
“We dance alone. That’s why we only play electronic music.”
In spite of everything, David and his fellow short-sighted connect. Going through the motions of pretending to be in love (so that they can “pass” for a couple for excursions into the city) makes them fall in love. And the metaphor — love is short-sighted and can’t see all the way to an unhappy ending — is potent if obvious.
Farrell doesn’t give away much as David. But the Oscar-winning Weisz lets the lonely longing show behind her eyes. In the right role, she can be heartbreaking.
Seydoux is marvelously hateful, a lovely loner bent on breaking up the fascist-imposed couples.
Couples just starting out are assigned children to distract them from their problems with each other if they start fighting. The whole society is built upon misconceptions, traditions, what-must-be, like a theocracy or communist family planning state that imposes couplehood, procreation and “happiness” on one and all.
It’s all too droll and tinged with loveless sadism to go down easily, a “1984” for a loveless, disconnected but Facebook “connected” age.It hurts.
And that makes “The Lobster” more a movie that you appreciate and ponder than one you embrace and enjoy. Whatever its intellectual pretensions, I am looking forward to never seeing it again.
MPAA Rating:R for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence
Running time: 1:58