One thinks back to the worst-case nightmare of fiction’s most fretful singleton, Bridget Jones, whose fear of being found “fat and alone and half-eaten by Alsatians” may indeed be wittily (and quite literally) referenced here.If that seems ridiculous, the Hotel — and, by extension, the film — nonetheless have strict standards of what constitutes rational and irrational occurrence.While no one bats an a eyelid at the transformation of humans into flamingos, the two-by-two mandate of Noah’s Ark still applies: A wolf and a penguin cannot live together, decrees the no-nonsense Hotel manager (the splendid Olivia Colman), “because that would be absurd.” The recipient of this lecture is new captive David (Farrell), a mild-mannered divorcee who seems less desperate to secure a match than some of his fellow guests — including a young man with a limp (Ben Whishaw) and a middle-aged one with a lisp (John C. Only Farrell’s character is named; others are billed solely by their chief disability, also the principal criterion by which compatibility is determined here.Yet the powers that be have taken a somewhat more regimented approach to the latter institution, by which single folk are actively punished for their failure to pair up.Restricted to the rural outskirts of a damp, unnamed city, they are literally hunted down by other unattached prisoners of the Hotel, an aggressively beige institution where inmates are given 45 days to find a mate within their ranks — or be turned into an animal of their choosing and released into the wild.The act is never referred to in the ensuing two hours, yet it comes to encapsulate all the film’s roiling emotional stakes in miniature.
Longevity and lifelong fertility are among the reasons why a human may wish to become the eponymous creature, explains Colin Farrell’s protagonist at the outset of “The Lobster.” The tasty crustacean’s rich associations with the Surrealist movement appear to have slipped his mind, but not that of Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose supremely singular fifth feature — his first in English — takes his ongoing fascination with artificially constructed community to its dizziest, most Bunuelian extreme to date.
A wickedly funny protest against societal preference for nuclear coupledom that escalates, by its own sly logic, into a love story of profound tenderness and originality, this ingenious lo-fi fantasy will delight those who already thrilled to Lanthimos’ vision in “Alps” and the Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth,” while a starry international cast should draw as-yet-unconverted arthouse auds into his wondrously warped world.
Thus does Lanthimos’ confounding setup emerge as a brilliant allegory for the increasingly superficial systems of contemporary courtship, including the like-for-like algorithms of online dating sites and the hot-or-not snap judgments of Tinder.
If the unreasonable pressure on single people — particularly those of a certain age — to find companionship has already driven humanity to such soulless means, perhaps the scenario outlined in “The Lobster” isn’t so outlandish after all.
Lovers are not mutually drawn by their most attractive virtues, Lanthimos appears to argue, but by the shortcomings that they recognize in each other.
If common myopia or vulnerability to nosebleeds seem tenuous bonds on which to build a relationship, are they any less so than shared enthusiasms for Mexican food or long walks on the beach?