‘The Lobster’: A bizarre social satire with big, wild ideas

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Colin Farrell in “The Lobster.” | A24

Remember when Colin Farrell was pretty much THE leading young man in Hollywood, as white-hot a rising star as anyone walking the red carpet in the early 2000s?

Fast forward to 2016, and even though Farrell isn’t yet 40, he’s more Paul Giamatti than Brad Pitt in “The Lobster,” a mid-year contender for the most unusual and most disturbing movie of the year.

For about an hour, “The Lobster” is pure absurdist greatness, brimming with pitch-black shock humor and big, wild ideas. The second half of the film isn’t nearly as imaginative and startling, but I walked out of the screening with the surefire knowledge I wouldn’t soon shake off its most inspired sequences.

Farrell is an offbeat, deadpan delight as David, a soft-bodied, middle-aged sad sack with a bad mustache and two-for-the-price-of-one eyeglasses who is suddenly single after his wife has an affair and leaves him.

David must now move into The Hotel, where guests have 45 days to find a life partner, or they’ll be transformed into the animal of their choice. Literally transformed.

And here I complain when there’s a 3 p.m. check-in time and an 11 a.m. checkout time — and yet they call it a full day’s stay.

Whereas most guests choose to become a dog or a horse if they don’t find love, David says he’ll become a lobster, and he’s got some solid reasoning behind that choice: Lobsters live for decades, and they continue to grow, eat and reproduce until they die. AndDavid’s quite the swimmer and he loves the water, so there’s that, too. (What goes unsaid is untold thousands of lobsters are plucked from the waters far before their time, shipped to restaurants and dropped into tanks with other doomed lobsters, at which point humans single out which lobster they’d like to have executed so they can eat it.)

David has a dog. The dog was once his brother. After failing to find true love after 45 days, David’s brother was turned into a dog. David’s dog.

Let the dystopian analyses and Kafka comparisons begin!

Some of the hotel guests find love, at which point they’re honored in a ceremony and then closely monitored for two weeks so the management can confirm it’s the real deal. Others conspire to fake a connection so they can be spared from being turned into a donkey or a swan or a bird.

Oh, and I should tell you about The Hunt. Every day, guests of The Hotel are armed with tranquilizer guns and they go into the forest to hunt down the Loners, a rogue group of radicals with their own bizarre set of rules — first and foremost a ban on even the slightest hint of romance. For every Loner a hotel guest bags, the guest is granted an extra day’s stay at The Hotel. (One particularly skilled hotel guest has accumulated some 100 days of bonus time.)

The eclectic cast includes John C. Reilly as Lisping Man, so named because, well, he has a lisp; Ben Whishaw as Limping Man, and you’re already ahead of me about the origins of that name; Angelika Papoulia as Heartless Woman, perhaps the most frightening character in any movie of 2016 to date; Lea Seydoux as the hardcore leader of the Loners; and Rachel Weisz as the Loner who becomes the most important person in the world to David.

“The Lobster” is the first English-language film from the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose best-known work is “Dogtooth,” which as far as I know is the only absurdist film to reference “Jaws,” “Rocky IV” and the “Maniac” dance sequence from “Flashdance.”

As a social satire, “The Lobster” is hit and miss. The prevailing commentary about a world in which you’re literally turned into an animal if you’re not part of couple seems a bit dated; the allegory might have been more pointed a generation ago. Lanthimos scores some points with his take on the supposedly freedom-loving Loners, who might have even more rules than the system against which they’re rebelling.

Farrell absolutely kills it as David. Weisz gives one of her best performances since her Oscar-winning turn in “The Constant Gardener.”

I can’t overstate the weirdness of this movie. You might love it — or you might walk out after 20 minutes.

★★★

A24presents a film directed byYorgos Lanthimos and written byLanthimos and Efthymis Filippou. Running time: 118minutes. Rated R(for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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