On a bright afternoon in Los Angeles, city of hope and shattered dreams, I chat with Colin Farrell about his new film The Lobster, the realest comedy about love and relationships to come along in the new millennium. The Irish actor found himself uniquely steeped in the philosophical conflicts of dating in the modern world after starring in the satire as a recently dumped man who has 45 days to find true love—or else be turned into the animal of his choosing.
As fate would have it, I’m dating someone who wakes up each day to Farrell’s face on their wall. Every morning there he is, pistol in one hand and a pint in the other, those supremely emotive eyebrows silently pondering life and death and all that falls in between on the poster for In Bruges, the film that won the Irish actor the Golden Globe in 2009. Theoretically, I ask Farrell, should I take this daily dose of Colin Farrell worship as a good sign or a red flag?
“RUN!” he roars, delighted. “Run! I’d say that’s a little bit of both. What else am I going to say? That means he has good taste in films. He’s bound to bring you nothing but joy!”
He pauses, lowering his voice. “Is he fun? Is he kind to you? Have at it. If he’s kind to you, fuck—keep going.”
The idea that we humans have become slaves to far too many rules, societal pressures, and unrealistic fantasies when it comes to the pursuit of love and happiness lives at the core of The Lobster, the English-language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.
In it, Lanthimos creates a dystopian doppelganger of our world in which partnership is prized above individuality. Here, couples live in a city where police monitor relationship statuses and society forces single persons to check into a prison-like resort hotel to find a mate. If they can’t land a new one before their time is up, they are summarily transformed into animals and released into the forest to live out the rest of their days.
Farrell plays the doughy and bespectacled David, whose wife has left him for another man. He dutifully checks into The Hotel and submits to its austere procedures, befriending two fellow guests, a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly) and one who has a limp (Ben Whishaw). After a series of halfhearted mishaps at the hotel, an increasingly desperate David makes a break for freedom and finds himself joining a guerilla group of Loners who live in the forest, under the equally stifling rule of their own dogmatic leader (Lea Seydoux).
It was Lanthimos’s stunning 2009 film Dogtooth, Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film, that first caught Farrell’s attention and offered a hint at what the filmmaker could do with a story about the societal constructs we force upon ourselves when it comes to coupling up and living happily ever.
“I had seen Dogtooth and had been blown away by how maddeningly disturbing it was, and yet how logical the whole film was as well,” Farrell remembers. “The use of language in it and the framing of the world within it was just so transportive.” (Dogtooth’s standout star Angeliki Papoulia pops up in The Lobster as a fellow hotel guest known as Heartless Woman, who David attempts to woo, with disastrous results.)
The matter-of-fact absurdity of the world in which David lives immediately piqued Farrell’s interest. “Everything was played straight-up, for real. ‘Bob, that’s my brother. He was here for 45 days. He didn’t make it.’ There were things that I read in the script where I went, ‘Hold up, did that just say his brother’s a fuckin’ dog?’ We hadn’t talked about the Transformation Room yet. ‘How is his brother a dog?’”
“Yorgos is keenly observant of human behavior,” he says of Lanthimos, who co-wrote the script with Efthymis Filippou. “He likes to play with conventions and play with any of the systems he can or has observed that we live within or under, social constrictions, whether they’re borne out of some ideology, political or religious.”
Farrell’s David, like every character in the world of The Lobster, is a rather humorless fellow—obedient, unquestioning, and painfully fluent in small talk. They have been conditioned to believe that pairing off into relationships is the only way of life, while regressing to animal form is a mark of utter failure.
“There’s almost no life to the characters,” Farrell observes. “They’ve been so broken by dogma that they have no idea. Someone said to me that everyone in the script is looking for love. But they’re not even looking for love. They’re just looking for partnership—so that they don’t get turned into an animal, and so they can just fulfill what they’ve been told their purpose in life is.
“I think each person’s purpose in life is far transcendent of finding someone,” says Farrell. “I think that’s a huge thing, if you find somebody to share your days with.” His voice softens, and his eyes widen. “That’s so beautiful. I think that’s one of the most beautiful potentials that we have as human beings, and as individuals in this shared experience.”
It takes escaping the entrenched institution to which he’s been committed for Farrell’s David to find himself among the Loners—individuals who have shirked the dominant lifestyle for the freedom of existing as they please in the wilds of the forest, where relationships are strictly prohibited. There, he meets a near-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) with whom he kindles the beginnings of what could be true, albeit forbidden, love.
In the age of digital dating apps, The Lobster’s satirical take on alienation, loneliness, and the ways we forge connection land sharply. “I don’t think it’s a hopeful film, but I don’t think it’s one that portrays the world that we share today as one that’s just despairing and lacking in true personal connection,” says Farrell, who spent his own wild days romantically linked in the pages of gossip rags to starlets like Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie at the height of his playboy period.
“I have friends who have met people on dating sites who have had really good relationships, and that’s great,” he marvels. “Fuck anyone else who says that’s bullshit. Why is it a bastion of honesty and sharing of truth to chat someone up at 6 o’clock in the morning in a club, or 2 o’clock in the morning in a club, with a belly full of Jack Daniels? That’s not exactly the real you either, you know what I mean?”
Now 39 with two children from past relationships, he says he still considers himself a romantic. “I’ve always been pretty optimistic about those kinds of things, all my life, as long as I can remember being exposed to the concept of love or romance,” says Farrell. “I think the older you get, the more you can see pure romance as a trap and something that’s a cloak, as opposed to a veil falling, which it presents itself as initially.”
Farrell looks back on his younger self and shakes his head, smiling. “Jesus, I’m going to be 40 in three weeks. I hope life is very different. It is very different than it was two years ago, and four years ago, and five years ago. Either you accept and move with change or you suppress it, and I much prefer to be the former as much as I can and not the latter.
“But I see love all around me in the world,” Farrell declares, sounding considerably more confident than his Lobster counterpart. “I see it with my friends, and I see it in my life. I see it in the world. And I see cruelty as well. We’re just a multifaceted confluence of contradictions, human beings. It’s just a matter of which contradiction you want to align yourself with.”