In 2013, Spike Jonze delivered one of the most poignant and thoughtful meditations on the complexities of relationships and humanity with Her. Two years later and Yorgos Lanthimos has given us what is perhaps the most definitive relationship film in years with The Lobster, a movie that explores the full spectrum of relationships with impeccable wit, delightfully dark humor and insights so sharp they verge on deadly.

Like Lanthimos’ previous films (Dogtooth, Alps), The Lobster functions in an uncanny reality, one that is recognizable and yet totally wrong. Colin Farrell is our entry point to this world, in which single people are sent to a beautiful hotel and given 45 days to start a romantic relationship with another guest or else they are transformed into the animal of their choosing, sentenced to live out the remainder of their lives as pigs, ponies, birds, or the more popular choice: dogs. Farrell’s David has decided he will become a lobster, while a particularly nebbish John C. Reilly has chosen to become a parrot, and their friend (Ben Whishaw) refuses to embrace the idea, instead forcing himself into a relationship with a female guest who frequently has nosebleeds — giving himself intentional nosebleeds so they have something in common.

Much of The Lobster focuses on the importance we place on finding that common ground with a potential mate, and the lengths to which we’ll go in order to ensure that we can maintain that commonality and thus cement a solid partnership. This is a world in which living and dying alone is such a terrible concept and the pressures to find a romantic match so high that people find it easier to fake an emotional connection and settle for a less-than-ideal mate. While Lanthimos’ film exists in an uncanny reality, these romantic expectations are readily identifiable; The Lobster may be objectively fantastical, but it is grounded in exceptional emotional truths.

Daily hunting trips to the woods give the hotel guests a glimmer of hope — if they successfully capture a rogue singleton, an extra day is added to their stay. A desperate David finds himself a fugitive among the rebellious loners who live under the steely authority of Lea Seydoux‘s leadership and are forbidden from forming romantic relationships among themselves. David helplessly falls for a beautiful woman (Rachel Weisz), and their increasingly precarious and complex relationship offers a fascinating focal point for the back-half of the film, as David struggles to reconcile preconceived and socially-reinforced romantic ideals with genuine attraction and feeling.

The idiosyncrasies of the world of The Lobster are humorous yet not distracting; somehow Lanthimos makes these bizarre and darkly hilarious quirks feel naturalistic in this uncanny reality and shows us just how delusional our real-world views of relationships and single life have become. We have placed such an unreasonably high value on developing long-term, romantic relationships that they have become a life or death situation, and those of us who are single beyond what society nebulously perceives as an acceptable “sell by” date may as well be reduced to easily ignored animals — our worth effectively diminished by our inability to force ourselves to settle for someone who isn’t quite right for us, pretending we enjoy the things they enjoy to such an absurd degree that we do more lasting harm to ourselves than good.

Lanthimos takes a broad approach to the entire realm of relationships — widowers, divorcees, those who choose to be single and those who do not, people who have settled for partners who aren’t good matches, and the very concept of what a “good match” is…or what we think it is…or what we want it to be.


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