I think it’s hard to not understate just how strange The Lobster is. It’s certainly bizarre, bonkers, madder than a sack of owls, or any other euphemism you want to use, but its strangeness masks a fairly coherent parable about the importance society places on relationships. In this review we will explore that thought for a while.
The Lobster is a (I guess if we had to nail this thing into a genre it would be vaguely “dystopian science fiction”) movie by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and his first ever English language production, starring fairly well-known names such as Colin Farrel as the lead (“David”), Rachel Weisz (“Short-Sighted Woman”), and co-starring John C. Reilly (“Lisping Man”) and Olivia Colman (“Hotel Manager”).
As you can see from their names, the characters are incredibly deep and well fleshed-out. Or not…
The characters merely serve as a vehicle for the strangeness that is The Lobster. The premise revolves around a City with a law that dictates all single people are taken to The Hotel where they are given 45 days to find a partner before they are, in a move fairly evocative of The Island of Dr. Moreau, turned into animals and released into the wild.
As horrifically unusual as this punishment is, people are at least allowed to choose their animal (David chooses a lobster, hence the title), and are given the opportunity to gain extra days by hunting Loners (a collective of Hotel escapees who live together in the woods).
Character interaction and dialogue in general is presented as very blunt and matter-of-fact with very little emotion and romanticism involved. People introduce themselves with a brief summary of their physical traits and any idiosyncrasies (such as “I have a limp”) and rarely – if at all – use evocative language.
In the Hotel there are three stages to forming a “relationship” with someone: first you are committed to one of the single rooms and can only interact with other singles where you will hopefully find a compatible partner and be upgraded to a double room. If the couple stays together then they are moved to a yacht in the lake the Hotel overlooks before being released back into the City. If at any point the couple starts arguing they are assigned one or more children to see if it rectifies the problem.
It’s after witnessing those three stages it becomes apparent we are dealing with a visual allegory rather than a literal story.
The Lobster is clearly a rather sarcastic dig at the importance that society places on relationships and the obsession of “compatibility” that comes hand in hand with the issue (e.g. the Limping Man fakes nosebleeds to feign compatibility with the “Nosebleed Woman”). In the Hotel, the guests are subjected to daily demonstrations of propaganda extolling the virtues of partnership, a clear reference to the vaunted position of the relationship in mainstream media.
After David escaped from the Hotel I figured the movie would end there (escaping from the obsession of relationships to become a confirmed bachelor) but that was only half way through the movie and Lanthimos apparently had a lot more to say.
David’s stay with the Loners is equally restrictive and bizarre. In contrast to the Hotel, relationships are completely forbidden and intimate physical contact is punished out of proportion but with relation to the “crime” (i.e. the “red kiss” and the horrifyingly-named “red intercourse”). Loners are also encouraged to dig their own graves. Macabre, I know.
This portion of the film extends the allegory to encompass a feeling of “them and us” between single people and those in relationships, a phenomenon similar to being the “third wheel” etc, where couples only tend to hang out with couples and bachelor(ette)s all mob together in solitary solidarity; “The single life is great, who needs couples!” so many media outlets say.
David falls in love with a Loner who is short-sighted (David wears glasses) but the two of them have to hide this from the other Loners, perhaps a metaphor for relationships within friendship groups being frowned upon, and when the affair is discovered the leader of the Loners (“Loner Leader”) has Short Sighted Woman surgically blinded without her consent (maybe a jealous friend sabotaging the relationship?).
The movie ends with a rather interesting comment about how far people will go to ensure “compatibility” with their chosen partner and the importance of “having things in common” as David, determined to continue his relationship with Short Sighted (now Blind) Woman, prepares to blind himself with a steak knife in a restaurant bathroom.
I know that I may have just ruined the story for you, but remember that this is just my interpretation of an utterly bizarre film masquerading a complex allegory about the nature of relationships in the modern world.
Despite its nature (or maybe because of it) the Lobster has earned a fair amount of critical acclaim, managing to achieve a hefty critic rating of 92% accompanied by an user score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, in addition to pretty good scores of 80/100 on Metacritic and 7.2 on IMDB.
As for me, I’m not entirely sure if the film was worth the nearly two hours of my life I gave up to view it. Sure, it’s got a fairly interesting message, but it could probably have been accomplished with half the run time without sacrificing the point of the whole thing. A more definitive ending would have been nice, too. Taking all of that into consideration I’ll give The Lobster a respectable 6.5/10.
You can go and watch it if you want, if only to see a Colin Farrell's glorious mustache.