What is love?
It would be a mistake to call Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster absurd. Sure, it’s an absurdist romantic comedy where, in some parallel dystopian universe, those who can’t find a suitable mate are sent to an ominous hotel to find one, within forty-five days, lest they be transformed into a lower life form. I guess that probably sounds strange to most people, but, maybe, wholly practical to others. Who am I to judge? Nevertheless, the premise alone will likely be enough to turn off more myopic audiences. I get that. However, for everyone else, rest assured that there’s far more to this, dare I say, masterpiece if you’re willing to simply go with it.
The Lobster is very much a film about social conformity, particularly with regards to relationships. It takes its very stringent, extreme premise, of turning people into animals if they can’t find a partner, and makes us examine what love is. Our definition of the word is shaped sometimes just as much by external forces as it is by genuine emotions, and perhaps understanding these pressures, beliefs, and ideals is key in determining whether or not our own relationships are successful.
The story is filtered through the character of David, played by Colin Farrell. The Lobster focuses on his journey to either assimilate or be turned into, you guessed it, a lobster. He picks the creature due to its long lifespan and the crustacean’s ability to stay fertile for its entire life, revealing what’s important to him—or at least what he thinks he’s supposed place value on.
After only a few days at the hotel, David starts to realize the gravity of his situation. We see his desperation to find a suitable partner increase. He forces relationships, lying to save his own skin, which puts him in some rather unnatural situations just to make a connection. He actually forgoes finding a connection altogether at times.
David is never able to keep the farce going for very long, though, unlike some of his acquaintances who sacrifice their own identities to find mates. In a way, they sacrifice their humanity so they don’t have to literally sacrifice their humanity. It’s this very emblematic interpretation of societal constructs that makes The Lobster equally charming and unsettling. Being single is not an option in the film’s universe, it’s unnatural, and those unwilling to rectify their situations—even those in the most sympathetic of scenarios—will be ostracized. Maybe even into an ostrich.
There are some other suspicious things occurring at the hotel, most notably “the hunt.” Each day the residents have an opportunity to extend their stay at the hotel by capturing “loners” who have escaped off into the woods. Without spoiling too much of the film, subsequent acts take place during the hunt, and we equally get an opportunity to see how loner society functions. As it seems, the loners possess a similar disdain for couples as the hotel does for single people. It’s this contrast between the hotel and the forest that drives home a few of the film’s more salient points about relationship conformity.
For the sake of comparison, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love strikes a similar chord. The dry humor, the insight, and the theme of forgoing what is deemed normal to find happiness are all present in both films. In fact, I even had to check to see if The Lobster’s score wasn’t composed by Jonny Greenwood given The Lobster’s hauntingly beautiful string arrangements (despite not working on Punch Drunk Love, the Radiohead guitarist has composed several other of Anderson’s films).
This is not to diminish any of Lanthimos’s own accomplishments. He’s clearly a visionary with his own unique style and pathos. Lanthimos’s ability to be so considerately reductive is what makes The Lobster such a unique moviegoing experience. The film’s aesthetics often capture the same duality of its ephemeral story. Whether it be rain drops blotting on the back of a character’s suit jacket, or a slow motion jaunt through the woods during a hunt, Lanthimos seems ardent to juxtapose what makes us animals with what makes us human, adding new layers to this already multifaceted story.
Perhaps what’s most admirable about the film, though, is that despite all the satire, it manages to tell a rather compelling love story. First about looking for love in all the wrong places, and then about finding it after escaping societal pressures. Time and time again, Lanthimos asserts that love cannot be manufactured, it cannot be built upon lies, it cannot be negotiated. Love is this idiosyncratic thing that exists between two individuals. It’s undefinable in that sense, and applies differently to all of us. And maybe I’m projecting a bit too much with my interpretation of The Lobster, but I also think that it’s kind of wonderful the story allows me to do so.
Thoughtfully blunt storytelling
Performances across the board
String Quartet Score
If you aren’t a fan of “weird” movies, your loss
“For the seafood lover in you.”