The Lobster is what would happen if Wes Anderson set about doing Franz Kafka, with a hefty dash of George Orwell thrown into the mix: surreal, comic, sad, strange, beautiful, sublime. (Charlie Kaufman comes to mind, too, but let's not complicate matters.)
Set in a disquietingly serene not-far-from-now, the movie centers on the recent widower David (Colin Farrell, remarkable). He's a bit of a milquetoast who is just checking into the Hotel, a place people go after they have lost a spouse.
But the Hotel, set on bucolic grounds in the countryside near the City, is not a place to grieve. It is, rather, a formal matchmaking service, where guests are encouraged - nay, required - to find a new partner, to "fall in love" as the manager (Olivia Colman) puts it in a voice drained of romance.
The guests are given 45 days, with meals and parties, swims and dances, to do so, but if they fail to find a partner, they will be transformed into an animal. David, in fact, has brought his brother along as company: His brother is a border collie, having proved unable to find companionship when he had his turn at the Hotel.
This quirky, allegorical premise is presented by the Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos - the blazingly brilliant director of the 2010 foreign language Oscar nominee Dogtooth, making his English language debut - with the utmost matter-of-factness. Here is the reality, so there.
David is handed a leaflet with a list of instructions and rules. He meets some fellow guests: a man with a limp (Ben Whishaw), a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly), a woman with a proclivity for nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), and a woman with a scowl (Angeliki Papoulia).
And off they all go, courting and conversing and taking aim at targets - the silhouettes of solitary humans - with their guns. Later, they will use these weapons on the Loners, a group of insurgents who have run off into the woods and who are determined to stay human, sabotaging the Hotel and infiltrating its staff.
Léa Seydoux, of (coincidentally?) Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, is the leader of the rebels, serious, strong, inscrutable. It is in her ranks that David finds a woman with a soft voice and a penchant for wild rabbit. She is played by Rachel Weisz, and although her appearance comes midway into The Lobster, you might recognize the actress' voice in the narration at the start of the film.
A meditation on love, on loneliness, on social order and the quiet despair of our times, The Lobster is best served cold - and deadpan.
Truly chilling, truly funny.
4 stars (Out of four stars)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. With Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, and Ben Whishaw. Distributed by A24.
Running time: 1 hours, 58 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, sex, nudity, adult themes).
Playing at: Bryn Mawr Film Institute and Ritz East.