As any desperate stand-up comedian would love to tell you, relationships are weird. The idea that one person will be perfect for you, and that you should spend your life with them, is patently absurd, yet remains one of the default human experiences. Deconstructing relationships and love is hardly a new thing for movies to do, but The Lobster somehow finds new things to say and skewer about couples culture. It’s far from subtle, but makes up for it’s directness with its depth, hilarity, and humanity.
The Lobster could be described as dystopic, but exists in more a funhouse mirror reality akin to Snowpiercer rather than anything resembling the world we live in, like Gattaca. In this world, single people are sent to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a suitable mate. If they do not, they are transformed into an animal of their choice to live out the rest of their days. Discovering the inner workings of this world is one of the chief pleasures of the movie, but any real-world sense has to be left at the gates. Every rule and scene seems to be strictly allegorical, the inconsistencies and arbitration meant to mirror our own world. For example, single people are required to wear the same clothes unless they commit to being alone, and even the cops are always found in couples. It seems overly cute at first, but it commits thoroughly, and is a fascinating movie to dissect.
The world the film builds sells itself primarily through its distinct candor, which saves it on multiple levels. All characters, even those supposedly rebelling, speak like they learned about human interaction in a book. Its not exactly robotic, but what little small talk these people seem capable of is awkward and nonsensical (sample conversation starter: “Do you know how much a volleyball weighs?”). It introduces a necessary distance between our world and theirs, allowing us to overlook any nonsense in the mechanics and defusing some surprisingly gruesome moments. It also is absolutely hilarious; even if you find the satire too blatant or uninteresting, this is a very funny movie. The deep bench of actors sell it completely, particularly Colin Farrell as our protagonist David, Ashley Jensen’s biscuit woman, and Ben Whishaw’s limping man. And the score, which seems to consist of nothing but the most dramatic string noises that can be found, underlines the absurdity perfectly.
The movie is populated with fantastical oddities, but in its second half manages to find something resembling real humanity and warmth. It seems for a moment like it may reject its central thesis, but goes forward on a note of ambiguity not only about the characters but about the concept of love in general. The Lobster is an incredibly original work which manages to be hilarious while layering allegory on top of allegory. It will be alienating to some, but is an incredibly rewarding cinematic experience when approached with an open mind.
The Lobster (2016)
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux, and Olivia Colman
Rotten Tomatoes (91%)
SPOILERS (highlight to read)
The question at the end of the movie: Did David blind himself for the Short-Sighted Woman? I think he did based on the world the movie presented, but it’s mostly immaterial. Importantly, even when finding love in a more natural way than the hotel, David still needed to drastically change himself to make the relationship work. Relationships like David’s with the heartless woman and the limping man with the nosebleed woman were built on lies, and left behind a wake of devastation. But even things that work require a great deal of self-sacrifice.