The Lobster is a strange comedy-drama film with a cast of people you might have heard of or seen before, which appears to have been received positively at prominent film festival’s like Cannes. Apparently the director is a prominent guy in film circles, Yorgos Lanthimos, from Greece, although this was his first foray into English language films. It’s an entertaining watch, with a funny take on the way the world sees having a partner as a sign of life success - but the film is a little unnecessarily stressful at times, due to the soundtrack, and random spurts of abstract violence.
You can see the intent of the film quite clearly. The storyline goes that the world the protagonist David (Colin Farrell) lives in, is set up where only couples are accepted parts of society. If you are subjected to a situation where you are no longer in a relationship, then there is a way to rejoin society, which involves going to a hotel, or intensive camp, for 45 days, where you either meet someone to rejoin the world with as a couple, or you get turned into an animal of your choice. The movie title exists, because David chooses to become a lobster if he doesn’t make it (his reasoning is essentially because they live a long time).
The hotel is really a boot camp, and interesting details arise. Particularly, for people to be together in this society (and together means you can be part of society, to live in “the city”), you have to share a prominent common trait - for example, both be good singers, or both be tall. This is how your compatibility is measured, and if a connection like this doesn’t exist, then you cannot be a couple, because you will not be accepted as being “meant” for each other. The film switches between these broader metaphors that are quite good, into some facets that appear to have absolutely no metaphorical meaning whatsoever.
An example of the complications of the common trait requirements is one of David’s friends, who has a limp, and now that his wife (who had a limp) has died, is searching for another companion. Unfortunately there are no obvious people who share his defining trait, but there is a attractive young lady who get’s nose bleeds. When they are swimming together one day, whilst she is under, he smashes his face on the edge of the pool, and thus his nose starts bleeding, and the hotel approves of them being together. If this sounds a bit absurd, it’s because it pretty much is, but at least those metaphors make sense - it is absurd how relationships can define success in society, as are the actions people take to appear fit for a relationship. He reasons that he would prefer the pain of having to always smash his face against a wall and cause nose bleeds, that the shame of turning into an animal. It makes sense.
Meanwhile, David get’s together with a lady that appears to have no feelings, by pretending that he also has no feelings. This goes poorly, because she eventually kills his dog (who, is his brother having gone through the program and failed), and then when he reacts with dismay and emotion, she calls him a liar which leads to a violent chase and her being turned into an animal. The relationship things make a lot of sense. The extreme actions don’t make as much sense - why does she care so much to want to kill him? Why does the lady with no feelings get so angry?
Poor David is forced to escape after this, and he joins a rogue group of singles, who live in the wild, and are only allowed to listen to electronic music, because you can dance by yourself (this is an enjoyable joke). This is a little confusing, David doesn’t want to be single, but it seems like he can’t re enter the couples world now, so he has to embrace single dom. For completely unknown reasons, the singles punish people who do fall in love or lust, quite brutally, cutting off their lips if they kiss for example. Is this what people do in real life? Punish their friends that leave their single group of friends because they fall in love? I guess the metaphor works.
And yet still, David finds a women in the singles group who is also short sighted and they “fall in love”. During this stage, the singles complete a strange mission of seeming importance into the couples hotel where they try and expose the fragility of those who have found a partner based on their shared trait, David exposes that his previous friend does not get nose bleeds (absolutely nothing of significance appears to come from this foray). The singles want everyone to be single apparently, and the couples want everyone to be a couple - I guess this is the way people are - wanting to sell their own lifestyles as superior. However, when the leader of the singles finds out that David and his fellow short sighted lady are in love, she tricks the lady into getting eye surgery that turns her blind. This crushes them both, and clearly destroys their relationship potential. But they fight on, and the movie ends in an extreme, absurdist fashion, with David about to stab his eyes to join his lady in the blind world.
And this, ultimately, is the best way to describe the film - absurd. It could have been a good absurd, but it loses this ethos, and this takes away the enjoyment and messaging of the film. Having a laugh at the ridiculous extrapolation of our current world, and wondering how it relates to the world we actually inhibit is funny, curious and thought provoking. Having highly strung music, depressed, emotionless characters, with typical bleak colourless British lighting, and spurts of intense, non sensical violence take away from that message - to the point where you almost forget what that message was.