Animal kingdom: Surreal comic drama The Lobster
Colin Farrell stars in The Lobster, a surreal comedy drama about a world in which the biggest crime is to be single. David Roy observed this enjoyably bizarre dating game
THE Lobster is billed as 'an unconventional love story' – however, 'unconventional' seems an inadequate term for writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos's (Dogtooth) surreal social satire, which ponders a world in which single people are stripped of their freedoms until they find a suitable mate.
Indeed, 'surreal social satire' doesn't quite cut it either: The Lobster is also an offbeat dystopian horror film, where the dread is generated by societal conventions taken to ludicrous extremes: those who fail to find a mate are transformed into an animal.
"Most people choose dogs," explains Olivia Colman's Hotel Manager, a stern custodial cupid who runs a remote and slightly run-down luxury country resort where singles are given a period to pair off to avoid an animal fate.
"That's why there are so many dogs around. Not many people choose the exotic animals, that's why they're extinct."
The just jilted David (Colin Farrell) knows all about it – his brother is now a border collie.
However, this paunchy sea-loving singleton has something different in mind if he should be sentenced to live further down the food chain: he's chosen a lobster as "they live for 100 years and remain fertile for their entire lives."
"A very good choice," approves the Hotel Manager.
David's fellow 'guest' The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), determined to find a mate by fair means or foul, has a different view: "They'll catch you and boil you alive!" he warns.
Meanwhile, their companion The Lisping Man (John C Reilly) is too busy indulging in forbidden self-fondling to make any serious attempt at pairing off.
As you may have guessed from the character names, everyone in The Lobster is described by their 'defining trait' and they are advised to seek partners with a similar affliction.
Hotel guests spend their days attending seminars in which the virtues of coupledom are emphasised via bizarre role plays conducted by staff (singles are vulnerable to rape and choking, they learn) and attempting to catch the eye of a suitable suitor at evening dinner dances.
They also get driven out to the woods once a day to hunt 'loners', a loosely organised group of singles who have rejected romantic relationships altogether.
Led by Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux), they live wild by a strict 'every man for themselves' code, content to enjoy their furtive freedom by listening to music on headphones, going for long walks on their own when the mood takes them and other cliched 'bonuses' of single life. They're also required to literally dig their own graves.
Guests who manage to shoot a loner with a tranquillizer dart get a bonus day added to their residency. Tellingly, Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) has amassed well over 100 days via these missions – David thinks she might make an ideal partner, if only he can persuade her he's made from similarly unfeeling stuff.
There's a streak of gleefully dark humour running through the pitch black core of The Lobster, which never offers its audience traditional 'cues' on how to react to what's unfolding onscreen.
A portentous musical score permeates proceedings and dialogue is sparse and chatter-free, with characters speaking in short, flat statements that sound suspiciously over-rehearsed, as if every word is being recorded by an unseen vengeful agency.
Occasional expositionary voice-over narration is delivered in deadpan manner by Rachel Weisz's Short-Sighted Woman, who offers insight into the amusingly selfish thoughts occupying David's head.
She doesn't actually appear on-screen until the final third of the story, when the development of a secret relationship with David becomes the main focus.
While you'd never call The Lobster a 'date movie', it's certainly an oddly enjoyable watch for couples and singles alike, all of whom will shift uncomfortably in their seats at some point during its stylishly idiosyncratic commentary on 'normality'.
:: The Lobster is showing at QFT Belfast now (Queensfilmtheatre.com).
The Lobster (15, 118mins)
Starring: Colin Farrell, John C Reilly, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
RATING: THREE STARS