“The Lobster” takes place in a world that closely resembles our own with one notable exception: Single people are transformed into animals if they haven’t coupled up at the end of a 45-day period spent in a resort hotel.
It’s a doozy of a satirical premise concocted by Yorgos Lanthimos, who directs and co-wrote the screenplay, that evokes the fundamental absurdity of the very real social pressure to find a mate and proceed along a pre-determined path of existence.
It also facilitates one of the most unlikely motion pictures to feature major stars like Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in a long time — droll and painstakingly deadpan, in which a monologue about plunging into a wolf den for a reunion with a mother transformed into an animal, or a stiff courting ritual, must be played in a fashion that evokes the tangible human feelings festering amid the absurd exterior.
Farrell plays David, a lonely architect abandoned by his wife, who arrives at the hotel to begin the mating process with little but a shaggy dog that was once his brother.
He befriends a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly), who seems all but resigned to his pending transformation, and another (Ben Whishaw) who walks with a limp and is determined to remain human.
The experience of the picture defies easy description. So much of the story unfolds in the difficult balancing of tones, deftly handled by Lanthimos and his actors, in the gradual expeirence of Farrell’s David finding reason and motivation to persevere as the clock counts down toward his end, and in the violent moments that play less like gruesome shocks than simply mundane occurrences in a universe that regards them as casually as one might a breakfast meal, or a walk in the woods.
It takes awhile to grasp what Lanthimos is doing here — we’re so accustomed to heavy doses of sentimentality in our entertainment that it can be jarring to encounter a movie about matters of the heart that has been totally stripped of it.
His film, though, gets something exactly correct about the fruitless instinct to control the uncontrollable, in this case the very act of loving itself.