NOTE: The following piece may contain spoilers.
Standing as the first English language film from Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster is a beguiling and enthralling experience unlike any other. Taking certain implied thematic cues from the absurdist and philosophical literature of German writer Franz Kafka, Lanthimos’ latest directorial effort is as alienating as it is intimate. The characters who populate the dystopia of The Lobster are akin to characters in a fairy tale. Their outward personalities are muted by a world oppressively orchestrated by archaic and utilitarian laws. Everyone must form a couple in the world of The Lobster, and those who wish to anarchically live a life of solitude are forced to exist on the fringes of mainstream society.
Enter David (Colin Farrell), a recently cuckolded man who is promptly escorted to a remote hotel with the facilities to pair single adults off with one another via martially ordered matrimony. Accompanied by his brother (who has been accordingly turned into a dog per the demands of society), David decides that if he does not find a suitable mate within 45 days he would like to be turned into a Lobster as such a creature “tends to be over one hundred years old, have blue blood just like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives.” The rest of the film follows the tone set by this relatively outlandish and tonally obtuse premise, for better or for worse depending on how you feel about love and loneliness.
In The Lobster, love does not always lead to happiness. For many hotel guests like David, coupling is simply a means to subdued contentment. Such is the case with Ben Wishaw, whose sad sack supporting character pretends to suffer from nose bleeds in order to stay married to his chronically afflicted fellow sufferer and ipso facto wife. Shared character traits serve as the grounds for matrimony in Lanthimos’ film, though the soil more often than not proves infertile and incapable of sustaining the vitality necessary for actual human intimacy.
The film is thus something of a hard pill to swallow for those viewers simply looking for a good time or two hours worth of a passing distraction. Instead of offering some kind of lightly romanticized version of true love, The Lobster considers the subject of human affection with a heavy sincerity. When David finally meets and falls in love with Rachel Weisz’s unnamed character (credited only as “short sighted woman”) by film’s end, their coupling can only be maintained if they share an explicit facet of their very physiognomy (and resulting world view). Such a malformed understanding for the basis of a sound and lasting marriage is certainly a bleak and absurd one, but it is also an interpretation that serves to underline the irascible nature of human relationships as a whole.
It’s not easy to remain fast friends with someone, let alone stay in love. The sad seeming truth of the universe is that every man is an island. One can rarely see very far beyond the horizon of their own universe. Solipsism is an affliction so prevalent among the general population that it is no wonder dating sites often search for facets of the human experience that individual users hold in common to establish even the most tenuous of connections in order to form unique archipelagos.
By the end of The Lobster, David and his recently blinded bride-to-be have escaped society twice over only to find themselves once more alone, separated by a deformity which they must bond over or else drift apart. In answer to the imminent dissolution of their tenuously upheld emotional connection to one another, David takes it upon himself to blind himself using the crudest of implements readily at hand in a local diner. The viewer is thus left unsure of the state of David’s newfound love and questioning the very nature of human intimacy and affection in kind.
If Lanthimos’ social dystopia is to be taken as gospel, then true love is a grand fever dream propagated by the most flimsy of material available. Love in The Lobster is dictated by physical deformities and temperamental perversions, not any kind of sentimental connection of the mind, body, and soul. Oftentimes romantic comedies will romanticize some of the more puerile aspects of true love, culminating with the resounding clamor of wedding bells and subsequently intimated physical coupling. In The Lobster, love begins long after Cupid’s arrow first strikes, leaving man and wife to find other more quantifiable aspects to maintain a shared affinity.
By the end of one’s first viewing of The Lobster, many movie goers might be wondering how best to describe Lanthimos’ highly unsettling social fable. Despite the films’ subjective study of the kind of romanticism more unequivocally celebrated in the romantic comedy sub-genre, Lanthimos sets far too dour and sardonic a tone for his work to be cast alongside the likes of When Harry Met Sally. Then again, in light of the more like-minded lampoons of contemporary love and affection to be found in such monuments to contemporary cinema as Silver Linings Playbook, perhaps The Lobster is far funnier than it appears to be at first glance.
The characters who populate the film’s dramatic landscape appear without affect and emotion, proving poor substitutes for the kind of blind optimism more stereotypically expected in a film about love. But in their apparent apathy towards partaking in the film’s grand romance, perhaps Lanthimos has made a far more nuanced depiction of the failures of love and life in the 21st century. The romantic comedy has become something of a sore subject among many cinephiles, as their tired narrative tropes more often than not prove to be grossly incongruous with the actual circumstances of human-to-human connection. So maybe The Lobster is actually the ultimate romantic comedy by proxy, as its quantitative appraisal of the genre makes for one of the most highly original takes on its inherent romanticism without losing sight of the hard realities of an inescapable human melancholy dictated by our respective solipsisms.
Featured Image: A24