Review: The Lobster (2016)


Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Daredevil), Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, Sunshine), Léa Seydoux (Grand Budapest Hotel, Spectre), Ben Whishaw (Spectre, Skyfall), and John C. Reilly (Chicago, Wreck-It Ralph) star in this surreal art piece set in a dystopian world that reflects our own societal sensibilities but takes them further. If you enjoyed the British series Black Mirror and its uncomfortable realities that are slightly out of step from ours, this will appeal to you as well.


Question: will you follow the accepted order, live as one half of a couple, and remain in the City with all the amenities you can think of, or live on the outskirts as a Loner, camping out, and periodically being pursued by those who are in between partners? Whether you are alone by choice or because of circumstances beyond your control, this is the fundamental dividing line between characters.

The film opens on a woman driving and we are introduced to the amazing sound design with the wheels whirring on the road, the rain pounding on the windshield, and the discrepancy of the audience staying inside the car as the woman steps out. Next we meet our protagonist, the Near-Sighted Man, as he is forced to leave his marriage in favor of his wife’s new partner. All he takes is a small satchel and his transformed brother to keep him company. We follow our “hero” as he moves into a transition hotel with a limit on how long you can stay: 45 days to start, although more time can be purchased by successfully hunting Loners. If his time runs out before he finds a new partner to fall in love with, he must allow himself to be transformed into the animal of his choice, as long as he has followed the rules during his tenure there. If not, there are other punishments to be endured. Near-Sighted Man states that he’d like to become a lobster, since they have long lives, remain virile into old age, and have blue blood like the better class of people.

The surrealistic world of the film feels like it overlaps the worlds of Being John Malkovich, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Logan’s Run at times. Each resident of the hotel is issued identical clothing and amenities in their size, and if they find a partner during their time spent there, they will be allowed more privileges and freedom. There is great importance placed on superficial characteristics so they can find their matching partner, and the people we meet are referred to as Nosebleed Woman, Limping Man, Biscuit Woman, and Lisping Man. Sometimes their defining characteristic can be updated as they meet a potential mate and reprioritize. The decision is up to our hero whether he will accept what he is told, stay in the system, and follow the rules to get back into the City, or rebel to find out whether being a Loner is worth trading in his safety in exchange for the potential benefits of living off the grid.

The unimportance of names and the small details (easily dismissed at first) that come back around prompted me at times to think of Fight Club. There are several discomforting and thought-provoking situations, and the deliberate pacing is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s films. I feel a second viewing would help to highlight the importance of animals, foods, and music (Nick Cave for one!) references that appear. In summary: intense sound design, surreal situations, perplexing decisions to discuss, and it may require multiple viewings to grasp more of the references.