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The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’ singular dark comedy examines the process of pairing up

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The film opens with a woman driving into the countryside, leaving her car and shooting a donkey. This scene is never explained or referred to again, but when you get to the end of Yorgos Lanthimos’ singular dark comedy The Lobster, you’ll definitely understand.

In the next scene, we meet David (Colin Farrell), slumped and resigned, as an unseen woman dumps him for another man. “Does he wear glasses or contacts?” he asks, to no reply.

Thus, in this mildly dystopic world, David follows the mandatory procedure for the newly single. He checks into a hotel, where he has 45 days, according to the manager (Olivia Colman), to find a mate, or he will be turned into the animal of his choice. (David arrives with “Bob,” a dog who used to be his brother.) David picks “lobster,” because “they live for over a 100 years, have blue blood like aristocrats and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.”

Life in the hotel is a series of awkward exercises designed to pair up couples. The hotel staff stage pantomimes showing how life is better when married. (Example: A single man, choking on food, has no wife to administer the Heimlich maneuver and will die.) There are dances that recall nights at a fading Catskills resort, and cringe-y introductions, in which candidates offer their defining traits, such as a limp, tendency toward nosebleeds or lisp. Ideally, one will find a mate with a similar characteristic.

In the woods beyond the hotel live “loners.” The guests take daytime excursions there to hunt the loners with tranquilizer guns to earn benefits. (Pay no attention to the wandering camels or flamingos.) Later, David strikes up a friendship with a loner (Rachel Weisz), and the film shifts to explore this community, whose members are neither part of the city of approved couples nor the hotel purgatory of looking singles, yet hardly free from social strictures.

As bleak as it sounds, The Lobster is funny, but in an observational deadpan manner. (Fans of the U.K. TV show Black Mirror should dig this.) There’s the absurdity of its premise and its committed presentation of a seemingly genteel dystopia in which pairing up is paramount. There is also an undercurrent of cruelty and pathos, which may temper your enjoyment, but what is more fraught and capricious than seeking a lifetime companion? (“Good morning, Room 101 — 44 days left.”)

The Lobster offers plenty of time to contemplate its larger allegories about love in our modern world — whether it’s by-the-traits computerized match-ups, or the perpetual anxiety about whether life as singleton or married is more fulfilling. As the enigmatic ending suggests, perhaps the easiest certainty is which sort of animal you’d like to be.

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