For the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, Yorgos Lanthimos‘s first feature in English, The Lobster, is “an adventure which begins by being bizarre and hilarious but appears to run out of ideas at its mid-way point… In a dystopian future, or strange alternative present, adults who are single, either through failure to find a partner or bereavement, must check into a hotel with other singles and find a genuinely compatible partner (the union’s authenticity has to be approved by the management) within 45 days, or they are transformed into an animal of their choice and released into the forest. But they can gain extra time for this ‘search’ period with hunting trips into the forest with rifles and bringing down rebellious ‘singles’ who have escaped into the wild there, living as singleton outlaws.”
“It’s an absurd premise, but one that Lanthimos and his game cast commit to with gusto,” writes Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. “Colin Farrell plays David, a schlubby architect who, when he’s left by his wife, has to check into a hotel…. Overseen by a stern Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman), he soon befriends Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), and scouts out the possibilities—the young Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), the desperate Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), and the chilly Heartless Woman (Aggeliki Papoulia).” Overall, “the film’s a blend of the works of Charlie Kaufman and Luis Buñuel, an uproarious yet deadpan satire concerning societal constructs, dating mores and power structures that also manages to be a surprisingly moving, gloriously weird love story.”
“In Dogtooth and Alps, Lanthimos explored themes of intimacy and attachment while confronting the social paradigms that dictate the course of most human relationships,” writes Adam Woodward at Little White Lies. “The Lobster isn’t particularly boundary-breaking, but it does expand on the recurring themes present in Lanthimos’s earlier work with an honesty that is at once disarming and enthralling. Fundamentally, though, this is a film about second chances. A classically styled, science fiction-inspired oddity that recalls both François Truffaut‘s Fahrenheit 451 and the ’60s British TV show The Prisoner in its sobre magical realist tone and acute observations concerning the human condition.”
“Lanthimos’s confounding setup emerge[s] as a brilliant allegory for the increasingly superficial systems of contemporary courtship, including the like-for-like algorithms of online dating sites and the hot-or-not snap judgments of Tinder,” writes Variety‘s Guy Lodge. “If the unreasonable pressure on single people—particularly those of a certain age—to find companionship has already driven humanity to such soulless means, perhaps the scenario outlined in The Lobster isn’t so outlandish after all.”
Leslie Felperin in the Hollywood Reporter: “There’s no simple takeaway message at the end—which if truth be told closes the proceedings with an anti-climactic, overly ambiguous whimper—but the sense that all involved have completely committed to Lanthimos’s tantalizingly inchoate vision is palpable. Co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou’s collaboration with the director is faithfully served by DoP Thimios Bakatakis, using lots of long lenses and natural lighting to create stunningly composed tableaus, and editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis smoothing down the tonal shifts to a glassy sheen.”
“The camera’s ironic detachment and the film’s sombre color palette both match the script’s gelid emotional tone,” finds Screen‘s Lee Marshall, “a quality also embodied in Rachel Weisz’s slightly numbed voice-over narration. A soundtrack of jagged, brittle classical music by Schnittke, Shostakovich and other composers brings the film’s edgy tension and menace to the fore, damping down the comedy that nevertheless bubbles up in a few carefully dosed laugh-out-loud one-liners.”
“So what’s next for Lanthimos?” wonders Variety‘s Leo Barraclough. “‘I’m writing another script with Efthimis Filippou, and I’m also developing a period film. I don’t know which will come first,’ he said.”
Updates: “There are bits of Sarah Kane, Jorge Luis Borges and Eugène Ionesco in here,” finds the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, “while British viewers may also detect a strong whiff of Chris Morris: a smell that’s only reinforced by the film’s strong and uniformly excellent supporting cast of British comic actors, including Ashley Jensen, Michael Smiley and Ewen MacIntosh—the immortal Keith from The Office…. This isn’t the type of film Farrell normally goes for, to say the least, but he’s a revelation here—every bit as funny and hang-doggedly adorable as he was in Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, but with an additional tragic humility that makes The Lobster, despite its slicing weirdness, surprisingly moving.”
Lanthimos and Filippou “mine some sharply black humor from the animal-fate concept, but they could replace it with euthanasia without materially changing the movie,” finds Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “Personally, I wanted an entire movie about David feigning heartlessness in order to get paired with The Heartless Woman, a desperate move he makes as he runs out of time. That felt familiar to me. I am 47 years old.”
“In [its] first half, The Lobster closely resembles Dogtooth and Lanthimos again exhibits his aptitude for creating insular, ruthlessly regimented microcosms through which to unleash his scathing satire,” writes Giovanni Marchini Camia at the Film Stage. “Unlike that of its predecessor, however, the attributes of this warped world are immediately familiar, even relatable. As a result, the director’s trademark deadpan humor is no longer simply droll, but uproarious—and also inescapably implicating.”
Aaron Hillis for Filmmaker: “Lanthimos has built a rich, idea-filled world that’s not just weird for weirdness’ sake, but an evocative Buñuelian idiocracy where nuance has been eradicated (Farrell’s character isn’t allowed to claim he’s bisexual or have half-sizes of shoes) and intimacy is a chaotic institution. In the film’s back half, the world expands as single militants hiding in the woods are introduced, including Léa Seydoux and Rachel Weisz, and the stakes become both tragically clear and emotionally warmer. Charlie Kaufman or Spike Jonze couldn’t have written a more exquisite dark comedy in the age of Tinder; its tense mythmaking is both singularly surreal and ironically representative of How We Mate Today.”
“Yes, The Lobster is arch,” writes Time Out‘s Dave Calhoun. “Is it a cynical film, scoffing at romance and relationships? Or perhaps the most idealistic movie ever, arguing for truth and honesty on the path to love and happiness? Perhaps it’s both. If only it were able to maintain the best of its scabrous, surreal, inquiring writing all the way through instead of releasing it in short sharp bursts.”
Updates, 5/17: From Daniel Kasman in the Notebook: “Unlike in Garrone‘s awkward Tale of Tales, here English is surprisingly well adapted for the bizarre attitude towards dialog of the same director’s Dogtooth and Alps; in this world, words are declarative, functional and often somewhat off-kilter from what is normal, and behavior is stark and presentational. What these characters are doing, how they talk and live would be considered performance art by those around them if those people too didn’t subscribe to the notion that this is how one must talk, how one must behave. (In this way, Lantimos follows in the footsteps of David Lynch and Harmony Korine, both of whose work veers close towards video art.) The Lobster is no doubt what our world might look like to an alien visitor.”
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club: “As the shocks and surreal-satirical conceits pile on, they accumulate meaning, leading to a semi-ambiguous finale that questions whether it’s even possible for two people to be in love on terms other than the ones their culture has laid out for them. There’s comedy that’s weird for its own sake, and then there’s this.”
James Lattimer at the House Next Door: “Despite The Lobster‘s innovations in terms of scale and breadth, there’s something oddly conservative about how Lanthimos continues to plug away at the same old structure: the progressive introduction of a tightly governed, deliberately dystopian group dynamic which becomes duly dismantled. While this time two different groups are subjected to disassembly, it’s telling that the film loses focus once the dismantling is complete. For all the charm that Weisz and Farrell manage to muster, their last-act wanderings still lack the bite of what’s come before. Formally, too, Lanthimos is oddly afraid to move out of his comfort zone, his dogged adherence to static and, by now, somewhat wearingly cropped framings also registering as timid rather than expansive.”
“Less interested in people than his compatriots such as Athina Tsangari (an equally strange but far better filmmaker), Lanthimos depends entirely on overdrawn concepts and overwrought allegory,” argues Adam Cook at Movie Mezzanine. “A horrible offender in this regard, The Lobster is all concept, no cinema; the type of one-note alternate reality metaphor that can carry short stories but rarely feature films.”
“The Lobster, most of all, is a triumph of inspired casting,” writes Richard Porton for the Daily Beast. “Colin Farrell, who can often seem stiff in big budget extravaganzas like Oliver Stone’s Alexander, is effectively self-effacing as a character meant to be a bit of a stiff.”
“Even if there’s no winning in its version of romance, the dry wit and pervasively odd sensibility of The Lobster make it very worth cozying up to,” advises Buzzfeed‘s Alison Willmore.
Fabien Lemercier interviews Lanthimos for Cineuropa.
Updates, 5/18: “To be sure,” writes Tim Grierson for Paste, “The Lobster has plenty of profound ideas, but they’re executed with a cheeky, sardonic lightness. Even when the movie gets dark and suspenseful—and it most certainly does—Lanthimos operates as if The Lobster is a tough-love satire. Dogtooth commented on the hell of family with an exaggerated, worst-case-scenario stylization. For The Lobster, he’s pulled off the same trick in an eviscerating dissection of the rituals around modern romance.”
“If Charlie Kaufman, Miranda July, and Wes Anderson went into the woods together and all had the same vision quest hallucination, it might look something like The Lobster,” suggests Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson.
“Lanthimos continues to be a unique purveyor of his own distinct landscapes, but The Lobster doesn’t take him out of his comfort zone,” finds Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema.
Updates, 5/19: “For the first 90 minutes, it’s all witheringly fantastic—Margaret Atwood taking relationships to Eugène Ionesco’s wood chipper. But the stuff with guerrillas is one despairing note,” writes Grantland‘s Wesley Morris, referring to the “band of single fugitives” that stages “attacks on the hotel in the name of emo-terrorism.”
“The piece does loose a bit of steam in the later stages when we move away from the core locations,” writes Donald Clarke in the Irish Times. “But this remains a poisonously effective work from an utterly singular director. You walk out feeling ever so slightly changed by it. There are few higher compliments.”
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn interviews Lanthimos.
Updates, 5/20: “Lanthimos’s grating aesthetics strain to mean, to exist, to contradict, and to provoke at all times,” writes Glenn Heath Jr. for the L. “A film with this many agendas should be held with some contempt, even if it’s always watchable and occasionally nervy.”
Alex Ritman talks with Lanthimos for the Hollywood Reporter.
Update, 5/21: Alchemy has taken US rights, reports THR‘s Scott Roxborough.
Update, 5/23: Marco Grosoli in Film Comment‘s first Cannes roundtable: “Basically there is the establishment, which is a strong constriction, but then it turns out that the absence of that constriction in the forest is even worse. It’s an overwrought film, of course, but I found it interesting how it conceptualizes the rule and the exception, and to find something else that doesn’t belong to the rule or the exception. And in this respect I think one of the perhaps better ways to enter the film is to try and think of it as a film that goes against the grain that it chooses to belong to, namely the Von Trier-ian, Haneke-ian pessimist film. At the beginning you think that you’re going to be in that zone, but then it ends up being an optimistic film.”
Update, 5/24: “What single New Yorker doesn’t sometimes feel like a schmo, toiling away to afford a matchbox-size $2,000-a-month studio even as the New York Times real estate section fills its pages with happy, just-plain-folks couples who manage to score ‘modest’ renovated Fort Greene brownstones, replete with palatial eat-in kitchens and backyard gardens atwinkle with fairy lights?” asks the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “Lanthimos is hip to the idea that society must find the cruelest possible punishment for people who just might be a little too happy being single.”