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The Lobster

August 10, 2016
The Lobster Movie 2015 Colin Farrell

“Now have you thought of what animal you’d like to be if you end up alone?”

You already know the tantalizing premise. Single folk are shipped to a hotel for a 45-day stay. In that time, they must find a compatible partner, or be turned into an animal of their own choosing. David (Colin Farrell) tells the hotel manager that, should it become necessary, he would like to be a lobster—hence, The Lobster.

It’s a desperate scenario, and one that widows and sad-sacks seem generally resigned to, complacent even. It’s not until fairly deep into the movie that the machinations of the damaged souls who would rather not be turned into some sort of house pet begin to show. Some guests fake certain characteristics in order to seem more appealing to prospective partners. Some enter into uneasy relationships and only to have their overlords assign them children—you know, in order help smooth things over. Some have have difficulties adapting to the rules of the hotel, and have their hands toasted as punishment (any movie trafficking in absurdity is really only as good as its non-sequitur game—and The Lobster’s game is strong).

Others still, decide to run away from the hotel and become Loners. Loners have opted out of civilized society. They live in the woods on the periphery of the hotel complex, and must abide by an even more Draconian set of rules than their hotel guest counterparts. The Loners also subject themselves to being hunted for sport by hotel guests armed with tranquilizer rifles. Guests are rewarded with an extra day to find love every time they manage to bag a Loner (The setting is never revealed, but a relatively small island like Ireland—where The Lobster was shot—seems to fit the bill).

Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos delivers on his Orwellian concept, with an added layer of kookiness befitting one of Charlie Kaufman’s finest works. A bleak dystopia with an absurdist conceit. The world of The Lobster is harrowing even without the animal transformations, and yet that element lingers on the horizon to make everything just a bit weirder. Like the unexplained tunnel in Being John Malkovich (written by Kaufman), you get the feeling that a more detailed explanation would only get in the way.

The Lobster doesn’t seem to reveal any deep truths about human relationships, but it does invent a fascinating scenario and allow it to play out to its logical conclusion. While this might be an interesting commentary on the societal importance placed on being in a relationship, the film does seem to get bogged down in the idea of “defining characteristics.” Limping Man, Heartless Woman, Lisping Man, Nearsighted Woman; these characteristics are proffered as a cheat-sheet for hotel residents seeking to find a soul mate with a complementary trait. There’s no overriding real-life analog for this. Is there? “Opposites attract” is a cliche for a reason.

That said, if we found ourselves within the constructs of the film, in which coupledom was given an even more exaggerated level of importance, would we not gravitate toward those most like us? Assuming you had everyone’s dossier, knew their defining characteristics, and didn’t fancy being turned into an animal, then would you not pursue the lowest-hanging fruit with the clock ticking down? This scenario suppresses people taking risks in their personal lives, which makes it a sterling example of dystopia. (I may be changing my own mind as I write this) The Lobster doesn’t reveal any universal truths, but it does seem to know people, and it does seem to have a bead on what they might do if brought up under such extreme conditions.

Along with the possible disconnect over “defining characteristics,” I have a few other rhetorical questions, presented below:

Why do the loners have such strict rules? I think Lanthimos might have gotten a bit too cute with labels here. They’re “loners”—if they are brave enough to run away and risk being hunted as live game, shouldn’t they be able to conduct themselves in the woods however they like?

Why wouldn’t there be more mutual consent when it comes to forming relationships? Don’t people settle in real life? Wouldn’t we all be compelled to settle if the only other option was to be surgically turned into a crustacean? The characters generally seem to fear the spectre of their transformations, and yet they show inconsistent desire to forge new romances. Romance is no easy thing, but my gut feeling is that there was a sharply indictive commentary about settling into relationships buried somewhere in here that was never fully teased out.

That matter of people having defining characteristics is somewhat mitigated by the ending. I won’t give it away, but the ending is a doozy. It’s sweet in a disturbing 1984 kind of way, and yet deeply sad. I won’t soon forget it. If you’re thinking about seeing The Lobster, you absolutely should. Just don’t expect a wacky comedy featuring Colin Farrell with lobster claws for hands.

From → Film Reviews

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