The world is structured around family units, around couples. Couples who are productive, industrious both in their employment and consumption and in generating the next generation who will eventually become couples themselves. Couples are stable. Single people do not promote stability, and so are a problem.
David (Fright Night and Total Recall‘s Colin Farell) is single. After a relationship which lasted eleven years and one month, he is on his own, something he has never experienced before. Along with others in his situation, in order to maximise his chances of finding another suitable life partner, he takes up residence in a remote hotel along with other trepidatious singletons.
There he will have forty five days to meet the right person with whom he can demonstrate compatibility, otherwise he will be turned into an animal of his choosing and released into the wild where, if lucky, he may have a second chance. With him during his stay is his dog, who until a couple of years before was his elder brother who failed to attract a mate.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos from a script co-written by Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster is perhaps too offbeat to have wide appeal, though it does have much to recommend it: “They live for a hundred years, they’re blue-blooded, like aristocrats, and they’re fertile all their lives.” When David explains his choice to the hotel manager (Broadchurch‘s Olivia Colman) she approves despite his unusual choice, after all “A wolf and a penguin will never be compatible.”
So begins a round of Hellish minglers and awkward interactions organised under the watchful and unforgiving eyes of the manager and her husband, workshops expressing the advantages of togetherness, punishment for breaking the rules, and always counting down the days for those who have failed to connect.
John in room 187 (Cloud Atlas‘ Ben Whishaw) knows all too well what will happen; when his father left his mother for a post-graduate mathematician, she was alone and chose to become a wolf. He used to visit her and her pack in the zoo until one day he was attacked and mauled, and still he limps, a minor disability he feels will compromise his chances unless he can find another person similarly afflicted.
Competing to gain extra days, they head out with tranquiliser guns to capture those who have fled the hotel and now live in the forest, the thundering Hitchcockian strings and melancholy cello replaced by melodramatic piano for the hunt, but making no progress David eventually throws his lot in with the loners, led by The Fountain‘s Rachel Weisz.
Where before the purposeful absurdity was played resolutely straight, in the wilds the narrative becomes more abstract and loses the sharp focus which carries the first hour, the situation neither as neither convincing or compelling beyond the regimented confines of the hotel which gave it structure, meandering directionless through a second half which, like many relationships, may have seemed a good idea at the outset but doesn’t last the course and ultimately tarnishes what went before