I really reject the repeated notion that “Hollywood is out of ideas”. You hear that over and over again, and it’s simply not true. There are endless original movies being made every day by an endless amount of filmmakers both new and old, but most people just don’t go see them. It’s something I quickly learned once I started committing myself to watching and reviewing movies – studios like Netflix and A24 are pumping out fresh and original content and I have yet to see an A24 film that I haven’t liked.
So in that vein, back in 2015 a filmmaker by the name of Yorgos Lanthimos (who’s gone on to make films like the Oscar-winning The Favourite) came out with a really weird film called The Lobster. It takes place is a dystopian world where people must, by law, have a significant other. Single people, known as Loners, are taken to a hotel where they are given 45 days to find a romantic partner among the other inmates (they’re not exactly guests). If they don’t, they’re turned into an animal and released out into the wild. The good news is that you at least get to choose what animal you get turned into.
Colin Farrell, who put on a hefty forty pounds for the role, plays David, a incredibly average looking guy who’s wife recently left him for another man. David is brought to the hotel (hardly seems fair) and chooses to be a lobster, should he fail to find a new partner. The manager of the hotel (Olivia Colman) is impressed by the choice – most people choose to be dogs, of which there are now way too many. The hotel, and the society in which it exists, has a lot of strict rules. Masturbation is prohibited (and severely punished), but sexual stimulation is required to be provided by the hotel’s maids (David remarks that this is awful, and it sure is). The residents are forced to watch propaganda-esque demonstrations on how life alone is bad and dangerous and how life with someone is good and proper.
Residents can also extend their stay and have more time to find “love” by going out into the woods and hunting and capturing the Loners that live there. They get an extra day for every person they bring back. One of the biggest rules is that your romantic partner must share a similar trait with yourself. One man has a limp and has to find someone else with a similar affliction, one has a lisp, one has frequent nosebleeds, and so on. If you don’t share a unique trait together, you aren’t considered compatible and you won’t be allowed to leave the hotel, be assigned a child (yikes), and live in the city with the rest of society.
So it’s pretty obvious that The Lobster is a critique and satire of our real world and the pressures of finding romantic love, along the same modern observations of love and dating that we’ve seen in Black Mirror’s episodes San Junipero and Hang the DJ. But where those were more focused on the culture of dating apps and romance in our rapidly evolving world, The Lobster seems to be about society’s emphasis on needing a significant other in order to be considered a productive member of that society. Those who are unable to find love, or who choose to be alone, are viewed as no better than animals. It also serves as a statement of how the world has morphed romance into superficial definitions – partners must share exactly the same traits and interests, otherwise how could they possibly work together? The film is a commentary on the societal construct that romance has become and been for quite some time.
The rules of the world that The Lobster takes place in, as ridiculous as they seem, are simply exaggerated versions of our own, and how finding love can feel incredibly regulated and restricted. At the hotel, you must decide whether you want to be registered as a heterosexual or a homosexual, any other sexual orientation isn’t allowed, nor is it even recognized. David, who states that he’s been with both women and men, hesitates for a long time before being forced to decide on heterosexuality. The film also comments on how often couples will lie and pretend in order to try and stay together, as shown when the Loners that live out in the woods break into the hotel.
The Loners at first appear to want to cause harm, but they never even kill anyone there. Instead, they disrupt the established order by exposing the lie and lack of love that the hotel’s calculated relationships are based on. One man attempts to save his own skin by agreeing to shoot his wife, only to realize that the gun he’s handed was never loaded. Another man is revealed to be faking his frequent nosebleeds in order to match traits with his wife. Even David attempts to lie and fake his way into a relationship with a woman, only to be exposed and forced to flee into the woods. But the Loners have their own rules as well, disguised by the promise of freedom. Loners are forbidden to seek out any kind of romantic love, which proves difficult for David when he falls for another Loner (Rachel Weisz), one that even shares his poor eyesight.
The first half of The Lobster that takes place in the hotel is a good bit more interesting and entertaining than its second half in the woods, especially as you learn how the world operates, but the genuine love story that develops in that second half is engaging and sweet. David is a perfect every day man, and his journey to find love despite the obstacles in his way is a solid emotional arc in a film that’s otherwise completely deadpan. The fact that love can even still exist and blossom in this world is inspiring and gives you something to believe in, and it’s impressive that Lanthimos was able to find the heart within his film that’s mostly a bleak and black quasi-comedy.
The Lobster is unique and refreshingly original both in concept and style. It’s not gonna be for everyone, it might even be an acquired taste, but whether you ease yourself into its absurd world or dive right in, you’ll find something there that’s worth it. The film isn’t just a biting commentary on the state of love and romance in our society, it’s also a philosophical question of what would you be willing to do and how much would you be willing to sacrifice to find it.
4 / 5 Stars
The Lobster is now streaming on Netflix.