EVERYONE WILL, AT SOME point in their life, have woken up with a bemused expression on their face, and turned to their other half, and described a particularly bizarre dream. Few of those people, however, will have felt the urge to turn whatever peculiar happenings their subconscious has conjured up into a feature film.
I suppose that is to pay tribute to the creative confidence of Yorgis Lanthimos, whose charming comedy-romance The Lobster is, to employ that overused and badly-used word, as dreamlike as you can get.
The film is set in a dystopian future in which all people must find a husband or wife or be turned into an animal of their choosing. After his wife leaves him for another man, the bespectacled, overweight David (Colin Farrell) arrives at a hotel for singletons, where Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) tells him that he has forty-five days to find a romantic partner, and asks him, should he fail to do this, if he has thought about what animal he would like to be transformed into. “Yes. A lobster,” David replies, without hesitation.
In the world of The Lobster, everyone talks unsmilingly in a staccato monotone, and romantic relationships are built exclusively on minor commonalities such as short-sightedness or a propensity to bleed from the nose, rather than genuine connection. The sheer strangeness of Lanthimos’s world is funny in and of itself, and made more funny by the interactions of its eccentric characters, played by a fine cast which includes Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, Rachel Weiss and Léa Seydoux.
But how much you enjoy The Lobster depends to a great extent on your sense of humour. It has that unique and ridiculous quality you might find in an episode of Monty Python or The Mighty Boosh rather than, say, Yes, Minister.
But it doesn’t always work. In The Lobster’s funniest moments, such as when Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) describes climbing into the wolf enclosure at the zoo (his mother having been turned into one) and being savaged by all but two, and then speculating that his mother was probably one of the two, it is really very funny. But there are other times––and a great deal of them––when the attempts at humour fail miserably, and the random behaviour of the characters is dull, rather than quirky. This tends to happen towards the latter end of the film, when the randomness that made so much of the first half so entertaining starts to become quite predictable, and the need to bring the narrative to a conclusive and satisfying end limits the potential for comedy.
There are genuinely tender moments in The Lobster, made more tender by the coldness of the interactions, romantic or otherwise, of other characters, and the social clumsiness of the participants. In this world of forced affection, it is real affection that is palpably absent, so Lanthimos has something to say on the nebulous nature of genuine connection and on the equal loneliness of single life and finding yourself in a passionless relationship (the former, he suggests, still being preferable to the latter.)
Lanthimos must be praised for the sheer ambition of The Lobster if nothing else, but he also succeeds in making a film that, underneath all its strangeness, is funny and genuinely endearing, even if it fades towards the end.