Rachel Weisz in The Lobster (A24)

Rachel Weisz in The Lobster (A24)

yellowstar Director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) uncannily creates worlds that take on real-life problems with blackly comic conceits that immediately hook viewers. In his new film, Lanthimos satirizes the pressures of being in a relationship in a society that locks single people in a hotel within a heavily scheduled and scrutinized 45-days stay. (One of the many restrictions: no masturbation allowed.) If the guests don’t find a lifetime partner within this time, they will be turned into an animal, without clemency. This is about as unsexy a setting for romance as it sounds. Everyone is desperate to couple up and looking for alliances more than love. The best way to find a mate is to search for someone who has similar “defining characteristics,” like having a lisp or liking biscuits.

The forest surrounding the hotel is home to the loners, single people and saboteurs who have fled society and are hunted down by the hotel guests armed with tranquilizer guns. The movie gives us glimpses into the loners’ lives in the first half, and then takes us into their hideout, where they, too, have their own set of harsh rules and hard living: there are to be no sexual relations among this band of rebels.

The performances are uniformly excellent across the international cast. All the characters have elements of stunted children. Everyone has been taught to speak overly formal with a disaffected apathy, but their wounded and scared humanity can’t help but seep through. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz lead the film as a a couple who just might find real love in a world that isn’t built for that. John C. Reilly harkens back to his man-child roles playing a goober who clearly has no shot at leaving the hotel a human, and Ben Whishaw plays a man who will do whatever it takes to leave the hotel a human. The scenes with Farrell, Whishaw, and Reilly together drive home the aforementioned arrested development aspect. They have the dynamic of uncool kids on a playground trying to distract themselves from the fact that they lose at whatever game is being played. Olivia Colman and Léa Seydoux shine as the hardened leaders of the hotel and the loners, respectively.

Lanthimos is in total control of the unpredictable and droll tone. Against the deadpan goofiness going on, he presents uniquely disturbing images that are the stuff of nightmares. When it might seem that the story line takes too dark a turn, a hilarious visual gag is executed in the background of one of the immaculately constructed shots. The effect is a discombobulating rush of inventiveness and imagination that doesn’t let up. And like the characters themselves, The Lobster might seem impenetrably cold, but it has a bruised heart underneath that lingers with the viewer long after the initial shocks and laughs. In doing so, Yorgos Lanthimos has become the most distinctive film satirist since Charlie Kaufman.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Produced by Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Ceci Dempsey, and Lanthimos
Written by Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Released by A24
Greece/Ireland/UK/Netherlands/France. 118 min. Rated R
With Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, and Ashley Jensen