In a world where being single is the worst thing that you can do, a group of single people sign up to live in a mysterious hotel where they have 45 days to find love or else they will be turned into an animal of their choice. If you think that description makes the film seem weird then wait until you see the film itself. The WTF is laid on in thick layers and just when you think that you might be getting a handle on what is going on the focus switches to something else.
I’m going to discuss some of the plot points here but I reckon there is so much WTF in this film that I can’t possibly reveal enough to spoil it.
Colin Farrell plays David, a man whose wife leaves him for someone else. So he signs up for his 45 days in the hotel in the hope of finding another partner before being turned into his chosen animal, the lobster. Single residents at the hotel get to know each other and find out about each other’s “defining characteristic” which seems to be very important in choosing a partner. The defining characteristic is interestingly usually a deficit of some sort like short- or long-sightedness, a lisp or a limp etc. The importance of matching a characteristic is so great for some that they are willing to manufacture a deficit in themselves so that they will match a prospective partner.
All singles seem to end up at the hotel from people who can’t make their marriages work to awkward people who can’t get a date to people whose partners have (very) recently died. Mostly the hotel is populated by oddballs who struggle with interpersonal relationships and so there are a fair amount of awkward scenes which stretch on just longer than I find comfortable which I guess is what the director was aiming for.
As well as usual socialising activities like sports and dancing the prospective couples get to bond by hunting down rogue singletons who live in the woods surrounding the hotel. These are presumably a mix of people who never signed on at the hotel and those who have left before their time is up. Hotel residents get an extra day to find love for each singleton they bring back from the hunt.
The outsiders have their own sets of restrictive rules and harsh punishments for disobedience and are ruled by a ruthless leader. They live and train in the woods and plot the downfall not just of the hotel but of the entire society that brought it into being. After becoming disillusioned with the process of trying to find a mate, Colin eventually runs away from the hotel and joins the rebels in the woods switching from hunter to hunted. Despite living rough in the woods and having to catch rabbits to eat, the rebels seem to have fresh clean clothes for when they need to infiltrate society and iPods for when they want to have a party in the woods.
There seems to be some kind of environmental crisis going on in the world that means that there is no other way of making new animals since it is explained early on that the reason for endangered species is because people who fail to find love at the hotel almost always choose to turn into a dog. However no explanation is ever given for this statement (or many others made in the film) it is simply the way that it is and the viewer is left to absorb the information and move on.
Throughout the film there is a monologue provided in a female voice explaining Collin’s thoughts and actions in the third person. Many of these lines are delivered in quite an unusual abrupt and stilted manner. This has an unsettling effect which is probably a deliberate device to increase the sense of detachment and general weirdness. Unfortunately the effect is also one of distraction, making the viewer more aware that they are watching a film and making it more difficult to feel part of the story rather than observer.
This film has quite a slow start and only picks up the pace a little in the middle and the final acts. The slow pace lets you absorb the atmosphere and pick up an idea of how the world works. This is useful because very little information is given about the rules of the world but just enough detail is given for the viewers to form their own vivid opinions of how things work which are probably quite different to those of the person sitting next to them! If you like explanations and closure though this is definitely not the film for you as nothing is explained and almost none of the story lines that are started get anything approaching a conclusion.
I started making a list of plot lines that don’t get resolved by the end of this film but then I realised that it would be a very long list and I couldn’t put them here anyway without giving away the whole plot. As far as I can remember literally none of the main plot lines comes to any kind of a conclusion and none of the big questions like why? and how? get answered. What you do get though is a haunting, beautiful and often disturbing glimpse into an alternative world that is close enough to ours and weirdly different enough to let your imagination run wild and fill in the gaps for yourself.