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“Does he wear glasses or contact lenses?” asks David (Colin Farrell), meekly, shoulders sunken, to his wife of, as we soon find out, 11 years and one month. “Glasses,” she responds with curt finality and asks him to hurry up and go. She is leaving him for another man.
In the dystopian, not-too-distant-future of The Lobster, loneliness is outlawed. Or, perhaps more accurately, romantic relationships are required by law. Those who do not have one must “check in” at The Hotel, a sort of rehabilitation resort located somewhere in the countryside. There, the unfortunate loners who have been widowed or left by their ex-partners must find a new partner. If they do not, a terrible fate awaits them: they are to be turned into an animal. At its core, the film meditates on the societal obsession with being in a relationship. The staff at the Hotel constantly remind the “guests” of the importance of romantic companionship. One such way is through acting out hypothetical situations where being alone would be costly. Even fatal. For example, a man chokes on his meal, yet his wife is there to dutifully dislodge the obstructing bit of food to save his life. The guests at the hotel are desperate to find “love,” focusing on their own “defining characteristics.” Whether it be a talent like playing Spanish guitar or an ailment like a limp or a lisp, they try to find people who share this characteristic. And while it’s not directly stated that two people must share a defining characteristic, it appears as if it is an implied necessity. So much so that some characters go out of their way to pretend that they are someone who they aren’t. When David’s stay at the Hotel is coming to an end, he desperately puts on a character to impress a “heartless” woman, perhaps his last chance at leaving the hotel as a human. This therefore touches on the superficiality of many relationships. You may have things in common, yes, but is there actually a connection there?
There are those who refuse to conform, however. These reclusive nomads live outside, deep in the woods, and are hunted by the guests of the Hotel for their disobedience. Yet these loners, as they are called, forbid any romantic feelings whatsoever among themselves; even flirting is punishable by the grotesque and tortuous “red kiss.” Basically, in this world, there are two ideas of companionship: the hegemonic one that being single is dangerous, wrong, and just inhuman, and the “subversive” one that any romantic involvement is base and disgusting. There is seemingly no middle ground.
Stylistically, the film is hypnotic and quirky, but this is not to say that it is unapproachable to the everyday, average viewer. Just don’t go in expecting “traditional” dialogue or cinematic devices. It is a beautifully shot, well-paced film with loads of humor but also stark images of inhumanity. Lanthimos’ stylistic motifs of abrupt and taciturn dialogue flavors the film with a lingering sadness. The film is humorous, yes, but also very, very sad. The characters talk like they do not know how to. Like it saps so much energy or aches the muscles of their mouths to do so, emphasizing the detachment from humanity that this world has undergone. This is nothing unique to the director’s filmography, however. Lanthimos’ penchant for deadpan humor and stilted dialogue is apparent in his other films, most recently this year’s Poor Things.
So, what about lobsters? Just what does the film have to do with them anyway? After the first scene, in which a stone-faced woman shoots a donkey to death with a pistol, you realize that this movie may not entirely be about lobsters after all. But the lobster is significant. Remember, if occupants of the Hotel do not find a partner within 45 days, they will be promptly turned into an animal of their choosing. And David’s choice? A lobster. They live for a hundred years, he reasons. And he likes the sea. To me, this hints at David’s cowardice. He just wants to survive. This, in turn, again highlights the superficiality of everyday people in the world of The Lobster; maybe they don’t really love the person they are with. They, too, just want to survive.
The Lobster screens starting Sunday, January 21st.
Sunday, Jan 21st – 5:30pm
Monday, Jan 22nd – 8:15pm
Tuesday, Jan 23rd – 5:30pm