September 12, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Review: “The Lobster”


The allegory is piled on so thickly in Yorgos Lanthimos’ THE LOBSTER that after a while, it’s not clear just what the underlying subject is supposed to be.  Lanthimos is a cult-favorite filmmaker (the cult mostly consists of critics and film festival selection committee members) whose arresting Dogtooth was an unlikely Best Foreign Film nominee a few years ago.  The Lobster is his first “big” production, shot in English with an international cast that includes Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw and John C Reilly.

The film’s concerns appear to be dating, love and authoritarian politics, not necessarily in that order.  Lanthimos’ script, written with Efthymis Filippou, features an elaborate Bunuelian dark comic construct.  Set in a dystopian version of the present, it imagines a world where couple-dom, or the lack thereof, is the defining characteristic.  No adult male or female is allowed to be uncoupled, and only days after someone is widowed or divorced, they’re shipped off to The Hotel, a slightly dingy resort.  There they have 45 days to find a mate, or else they’re transformed into the animal of their choice, left to roam the nearby forest and sea until being killed and possibly eaten.  David (Farrell, as the only character given a name), an architect deserted by his wife, declares that he will become a lobster if he can’t find someone in the allotted time.

The only escape isn’t much of one:  singletons can flee The Hotel for the woods and join the “loners.”  But apart from the risk of being hunted down by the residents of The Hotel (who earn extra days by their captures), the loner leader (Seydoux) is as fanatically committed to her members being single as The Hotel’s staff is to being mated, and terrible punishments are meted out for so much as flirting with another person.  Both at The Hotel and in the forest, couples are matched exclusively by one shared trait:  short-sightedness, having a limp or a speech defect, or a taste for biscuits.  Mere attraction or affection is insufficient.

The first section of The Lobster tracks David’s time at The Hotel, a place both genteel and ruthless, where the Manager (Olivia Colman) holds sway, and where David makes a disastrous attempt to match with a Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia).  Eventually he makes his way to the forest, where he meets a woman (Weisz) who, like him, has imperfect vision, making them a match made in whatever realm is applicable here.  (Their matching is telegraphed earlier for those who recognize Weisz’s voice as the chatty narrator’s.)

All of this is produced and performed with utter commitment.  The sequences at the hotel suggest a Wes Anderson nightmare, shot (in Ireland) by Thimios Bakatakis and scored mostly with classical music plus a few well-chosen pop selections.  Farrell, often at his best when he’s subdued, is an effective audience stand-in as David, and the rest of the cast apply themselves to Lanthimos’ plan.  What The Lobster lacks is a central theme to grasp in its claws.  Bunuel’s targets–the church, the bourgeoisie–earned his comic fury, but is The Lobster‘s target online dating?  Smug couples?  The allegory is fascinatingly detailed, and there are small moments of dark mirth and shocking violence, but in the end, there’s not enough flesh to be sucked out of its bones for a satisfying meal


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."