The Lobster is bleak.
I’m writing this having just left the theatre. I’m writing this the way the characters in the film speak, devoid of any emotion. Everything is matter of fact. Not even Colin Farrell’s sing-song Irish accent can pull the film up from its depressing tone.
It’s called a black comedy, and there are some funny moments, but the satisfaction you get from these jokes is the kind for which you have to work. So often in a scene or in a conversation between two characters, a moment will arise where you know, watching, where a joke will come and what kind of joke it will be when it comes, but here, they give you the setup without the payoff. It’s virtually joyless, unless you mentally pat yourself on the back for having seen where the joking was going, knowing it wasn’t going to go there, and then correctly anticipating exactly how it was avoided.
This type of humour is perfect for one character in one movie, or a few characters in a sitcom, not every character in a two hour movie.
The movie’s most interesting aspects come from its two primary locations (the hotel and the forest), and the different rules at both.
The hotel is where single people go to meet someone, and if in the time they’re given they don’t, they’re turned into an animal of their choosing (this is where the title comes from; Farrell’s character’s choice would be a lobster because they live to be 100 years and he’s an accomplished swimmer). If you do find someone at the hotel, you graduate to a double room where you live with them; if that goes well, you both graduate to a personal yacht; and finally, if that goes well, you’re reintroduced to “the city.”
Farrell’s time as a single at the hotel is running out, and he’s desperate to find a partner and stay a human, so he fakes compatibility with a woman. They graduate to a double room. Soon, suspicious, she tests if he’s faking the traits that make them compatible (she’s essentially a sociopath) by killing his dog, who was once his brother who had been at the same hotel and failed to meet someone. Farrell can’t help it, he shows emotion, so she tries to drag him to the hotel manager (Olivia Colman), who will brutally punish him. He fights her, gets away with a hotel worker’s help, and makes it into the forest, which is just as hellish in a different way.
The forest is run by a woman played by Léa Seydoux, who you may recognize as a recent Bond girl, or from Inglorious Basterds. Where the goal at the hotel was to meet someone, the goal in the forest is to remain alone, and if you don’t, if you’re caught flirting or kissing or sleeping with someone, you’re punished accordingly.
Farrell’s character meets a woman (the narrator of the film) played by Rachel Weisz, who’s part of this forest group. They’re compatible. They really like each other. They have to hide their relationship and do so by creating a silent, visual language made up of physical gestures (it is not “sign language,” although it is technically a sign language).
The leader finds out about the relationship and blinds Weisz. Farrell takes care of her and helps her get used to the blindness, but after a while, he leaves. When he comes back, he’s got a plan for the both of them to escape.
I won’t tell you what happens, but if you see it, it will make you cringe. The audience I was a part of collectively gasped.
I’m struggling to find out what it is that kept from me from enjoying myself. I wanted to like it. I like every actor in it: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Wishaw (Skyfall, The Danish Girl), Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, Peep Show, The Night Manager), John C. Reilly, Ariane Labed (Before Midnight). I think the premise is interesting. The cinematography is sleek and dynamic. I think the problem lies in the movie’s monotonous tone, which is dictated by its humour and its characters. The dark humour starts as charming, and ends tiring. The amount of issues the characters, especially Farrell’s, must overcome, when tallied, seem insurmountable, and yet they do overcome them, and yet they don’t change for any of it. Farrell’s character is the same at the end as he is at the beginning. Same thing goes for every other.
If the characters were complex instead of one-function tools for the storyteller’s experiment about human relationships, The Lobster would be elevated from what will inevitably be cult classic status to something greater.
Note: The Lobster is 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, 81% on Metacritic, and 7.2 on IMDb. I suspect all of these scores will lower, not because it’s bad, but because it’s polarizing, and so something around 50% would make more sense.