To any other species, humans are funny creatures. The Lobster takes our awkward relationships and places them under scrutiny. Yorgos Lanthimos’s third film, following Dogtooth and Alps, initially forces you to choose between a life of companionship or on-the-run singleness.
The strange hotel that gives the opportunity to partner up sets up a surreal narrative, and we view the entire enterprise with comedic suspicion. With its farcical rules and awkward characters, they are aliens to us. But what burrows deep within the film is a self-awareness that connects to all our lives. Our own partnering hunts (imagine a nightclub narrated by David Attenborough). Our lack of hope and desperation for company in this lonely existence. The Lobster takes joy in the uncomfortable silences and stunted dialogue while confidently expanding on questions raised in Lanthimos’ previous films. Ambiguous, refreshingly unique and an exciting conversation starter, The Lobster is one to wrap your little pincers around.
David (Colin Farrell) has split from his wife. As anticipated, he is sent to a hotel deep in the forest. Muggy clouds gather and heavy shades settle on the land as a dreamy mist. We’re told (by the hotel managers, played by Olivia Colman) that David has 45 days to find a partner or else he’ll turn into a lobster (his preferred choice of animal – “everyone chooses dogs” we’re told). As each day counts down, with the buzz of a morning alarm clock signalling breakfast, David gradually makes friends each struggling to cope with the pressures of settling down. David meets women (Ashley Jensen) who would rather kill themselves than transform into an animal. He meets men (Ben Whishaw) who’ll smash their heads on a cabinet to ensure they’re compatible with others. He meets another man (John C. Reilly) who’s punished after proven to be masturbating. It’s only absolutes: are you heterosexual or homosexual? Are you comfortably lonesome or do you seek companionship? The only grey area is outside, as the weather is permanently downcast.
The beauty of The Lobster is the intriguing questions it asks of us. David is nothing special and simply wonders what to do next. He wants to be content, he just doesn’t know how. He’ll try dancing. He’ll try shooting an anorak-wearing loner (an evening activity on Maison Singlefolk). He’ll even try uniting with the heartless one, until her lack of heart reveals its ugly side. David is the broken man who struggles to fit in. He’s had a gay experience in college but, by the hotels rules, has to define himself as heterosexual. Breaking the film into two distinct halves, his experience in both companion-hotel and outcast-clan (led by Léa Seydoux and including Michael Smiley) is fraught with insecurity and fear. Expectations are false and social-norms, flawed.
Lanthimos’ patient direction contrasts nature with the harsh urban city and aging hotel decor. Suited and neatly held in tight clothing, with ill-fitting heels (and uncomfortable trousers), David and ‘short-sighted woman’ (Rachel Weisz), walk on isolated, rural roads. This clash between modernity and our lack of connection with the wild is clear. Tall trees reach to the sky, dominating the frame like bars on a jail cell. Men and women are trapped by assumed rules. In the hotel, performances act out solo and duo scenarios. This appreciation of our dependency on others is laughable. But marriages break down because of a need for independence. Long-term relationships are often forged on lies. People actively choose to deceive themselves.
When The Lobster begins, a woman drives through rain. She steps out and shoots a goat. Her life moves fast, with no clarity as to where she is going. The weather is harsh but the termination of the animal is the only end in sight. You can happily be on your own or you can happily be with someone. You can also accept, though dislike, your current status. It’s a strange world we live in, and the surreal elements of The Lobster will make you laugh, but there is a cutting truth beneath the surface. Between Herrman-esque strings and strange dancing rituals, The Lobster is a tender love story that delicately asks questions but leaves the answers hanging. Maybe you’re happy. Maybe The Lobster says otherwise.