Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is part of a growing legion of filmmakers looking to distort the world as we know it in delightful and disturbing ways. Few of them manage to blend the delightful and the disturbing together as brilliantly as Lanthimos does with "The Lobster," a Kafkaesque fantasy where being single is a crime punishable by transformation into an animal. Even stranger is the fact that, in this expressionless world, turning into an animal isn't thought of as a punishment at all. This is one of a multitude of peculiarities revealed to us over the course of the film, and Lanthimos never misses a beat in his effort to make this world and its blank-faced inhabitants hilarious and unsettling in equal measure.
After being dumped by his wife, David (Colin Farrell) is sent to a seaside hotel where single people are gathered to find a new partner in order to be accepted back into society. If one does not find a mate within 45 days, they are to be turned into an animal of their choosing and released into the wilderness. Deciding that he would rather stay single than be with someone he has nothing in common with, David escapes the hotel and joins a group of Loners living in a nearby forest. It turns out, however, that being a Loner is no less a struggle than finding a companion, as the Loner Leader (Léa Seydoux) forbids any romantic or sexual contact in her clan. Soon after joining the Loners, the short-sighted David meets a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz), and the two begin a secret relationship.
David's stay at the hotel (a.k.a. one of the unhappiest places you could possibly think of) finds Lanthimos cooking up the majority of the film's clever images, such as regulated sexual stimulation and hunting Loners with tranquilizer guns as a way of prolonging one's stay at the compound. This leaves the later scenes in the forest feeling a bit dry in terms of ingenuity, but Lanthimos relentlessly piles on the malaise underlined by deader-than-deadpan comedy that would make Steven Wright chuckle. Though it runs short on ideas near the end, "The Lobster" ultimately relies on feeling to propel itself forward; ideas are just the butter and seasoning drizzled atop this delicious crustacean.
Bleak is too small a word to describe Lanthimos' incredibly dreary fantasy. Surreal wouldn't be a fitting description either, since this world is a closer to ours than some may like to believe. Colors and genuine emotions are almost non-existent here; in one scene, a man sings a passionate love song to his spouse, and not a single sign of enchantment can be read upon her face. People drift about with an achingly passive acceptance of the fact that there is little hope of living a happy life, whether they be single or in what could hardly be called a relationship. Yet as Lanthimos goes to great lengths to make the characters' lives excruciatingly sad (and ridiculously funny for us), they silently clamor for as much joy and love as they can possibly squeeze out of their miserable lives.
Perhaps your relationship status may affect your overall opinion of the film, but when it comes to the details, there's no denying their collective brilliance. The entire cast is near-perfect, delivering their lines like bored middle school students reading sections of a novel out loud for English class. Some stylish cinematography and a classical soundtrack also prove to be invaluable assets to Lanthimos' vision. Many other aspects can be complimented again and again, but the best form of praise one could give "The Lobster" would be a heightened wariness of our own world and the confounding nature of modern-day relationships.