“How do you even act in something like this? It was so bizarre. There’s no human reference that I know of to go, ‘Oh, I remember when something like that happened to me before.’ It’s so out there.”–Colin Farrel on acting in The Lobster
PLOT: In a future dystopia, every adult must be in a mandatory romantic relationship or they are sent to a state-run hotel to find a mate within 45 days, to be turned into an animal of their choice if they fail. David is a short-sighted architect whose wife leaves him for another man, necessitating his visit to the hotel with his dog (formerly brother) Bob. He tries to find a legitimate match, pretend to fall in love with another resident, or failing either of those options, to escape to the forest where a small band of renegade singles live.
- Writer Efthymis Filippou has co-written
- The Lobster won the Jury Prize (essentially, third place) at Cannes in 2015 (Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan won the Palme D’or, while the holocaust drama and future Academy Award winner Son of Saul took the Grand Prix).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: This is a tough one, because—the beautiful photography of the County Kerry countryside and the classical elegance of the Parknasilla Resort notwithstanding—The Lobster‘s bizarre situations and crazy concepts hit harder than its imagery does. I considered the scene where the woman shoots a donkey in a field, or a subtle scene where the Loner Leader and the Maid are sitting in the forest and a two-humped camel casually saunters by in the background. Ultimately, I chose David and short-sighted woman’s wildly inappropriate makeout scene, which supplies one of this very drily hilarious movie’s biggest belly laughs.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Donkey assassination; Heimlich theater; psychopath trial relationship
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Lobster is one of my favorite types of weird movies: one that takes the world we know, changes one or two of the basic rules, and then runs all the way with its premise to a bizarre conclusion dictated by its world’s rejigged logic.
Original trailer for The Lobster
COMMENTS: The Hotel Manager praises David when he explains that, if he fails to find a mate within 45 days, he would like to be turned into a lobster. “I must congratulate you… Very few people chose an unusual animal, which is why they are endangered. A lobster is an excellent choice.” It’s hard to know whether David is pleased or not by her approval, as he rarely shows any emotion—not that he is hiding or suppressing his feelings, it’s more as if he does not know how to feel them. As for the Manager, she runs her hotel as a bureaucrat, enacting an unknown authority’s dictate to either match up singles or to surgically transform them. To meet the State’s goals, she hosts awkward dances where everyone on both sides of the gym is a wallflower, stages plays demonstrating the superiority of couplehood to the single life, offers the residents an inducement to enforce the rules themselves by crediting them with an extra day for every escapee they bag with a tranquilizer dart, and stimulates the males’ libidos by requiring them to receive nightly lap dances from the maids, while harshly punishing masturbation. An unusual animal indeed, The Lobster.
The first part of the movie, which most people seem to prefer, sets out the hotel’s weird rules. In this highly binary world, there can be no bisexual option, since everyone must hook up with one and only one individual. Tellingly, the hotel offers no half shoe sizes. Residents are identified by their “defining characteristic”: David’s two male friends are defined by their limp and lisp, respectively, while one female is identified by her propensity for nosebleeds. David is short-sighted, and he will need to find a woman with a similar disability to avoid lobsterhood. As the search goes on, the men try to support each other. David points out that he saw a new female arrival at the hotel limping. “It’s just a sprained ankle. She’ll be walking normally again in a few days,” reports the Limping Man. “That’s a shame,” deadpans David.
Many ordinary moviegoers are unable to let go of their preconceptions and accept The Lobster‘s universe on its own terms. Complaints like, “why wouldn’t David and the blonde girl just fake a relationship to avoid being turned into animals?” or “why would David turn down the biscuit woman when it would save his life?” fill up message boards. Of course, if there really were such a hotel operating under such rules, and we were placed in one, we would forge strategic alliances to escape our bestial fate. But the people in The Lobster‘s world unquestioningly accept the absurd rules that govern them; they literally believe what they are told, that people must match their defining characteristics in order to be a match. They genuinely want “real love” as their society defines it, actually believe that their fate of being turned into an animal is inevitable should they fail, and they are unable to see beyond these mores. By trying to fake a relationship with the Heartless Woman, David is rebelling, as Limping Man does before him—he is choosing to be a criminal. That, in fact, is one of the main satirical points of the movie: it is extremely difficult for people to see beyond the alternatives society sets before them, even when following the rules is to their own disadvantage. The fact that many people who are raised on conventional movies can’t seem to grasp the new rules of The Lobster is doubly ironic: not only are they like the movie’s denizens who can’t see outside their own preconceptions about love and self-interest, they can’t even see the possibility that a movie could work on a set of rules outside of simplistic realism.
The acting style—blank faced and monotone, with emotions rarely peeking through the flat-affect facade—is deliberately alienating. In Dogtooth, the bizarre acting choices made sense because the children there had been raised in an isolated bubble. Here, it’s less clear why all the residents of this universe act so oddly. Lanthimos could be accused of adopting an affected style here, but the fact is that this choice works for The Lobster. The social setting becomes a dreamlike dystopia, reinforcing the conceptual weirdness. The technique also suggests a layer of repression—that the coupling rules so ruthlessly applied here have robbed the populace of its humanity. The Lobster‘s residents converse like the cowed victims of a totalitarian system, afraid to offer much beyond the most mundane sentiments, so that even their (rare) genuine declarations of love sound hollow and faked. And perhaps they are; perhaps everyone is out for themselves, perhaps you can never trust another’s declaration of good will.
Going deeper, the lack of emotion suggests an existential level of beneath and beyond the satire of monogamy. It is scary to think of The Lobster not as a thought experiment about a world that operates according to alternate rules, but as an unflattering portrait of the world we actually live in. It is, after all, not that far a journey from the “realistic” sci-fi futurism of Her, with its lonely throngs struggling to connect through the tangled cords of a world overrun by high technology, to the surrealistic fantasy of The Lobster, whose desperate citizens must fight through an absurd tangle of rules to find a mate. The apparent emotionlessness of the movie’s denizens may speak to our postmodern situation, mirroring a world where we are systemically alienated from others, desperate for mutual empathy but unable to read (or trust) our fellow travelers through life. We identify intellectually with David—as the only named character, and as one who both loves and fears as we do—but due to his offputting reticence, the sense that every phrase he speaks may be a carefully crafted lie born from the instinct of self-preservation, we doubt our affection and struggle to see him as a real person. And maybe we are all in this dilemma when it comes to others. Our instinctive human sympathy clashes with self-serving mistrust, and with the inherent futility of ever completely understanding someone else’s reality.
The rituals of dating are sometimes satirized and mocked in movies, but never, to my knowledge, has the very presumption of monogamy been challenged so directly and forcefully as in The Lobster. Onlyeven comes close, with his broadsides against the “bourgeois institution” of marriage, but he never challenged the notion of romantic love in and of itself. Is “true” love, as society imagines it—a meeting and merging of souls over common interests—even possible? On a love scale that goes up to 15, can we ever reach the perfect score? And does failure to achieve ideal love mean that we are something less than ideal humans— mere animals? If so, maybe we should all be working on figuring out what animal we want to become. (I suggest an unusual one).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…the film’s a blend of the works of Charlie Kaufman and Luis Buñuel, an uproarious yet deadpan satire concerning societal constructs, dating mores and power structures that also manages to be a surprisingly moving, gloriously weird love story.”–Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist (Cannes screening)
“…when it comes to movies, there’s a whole spectrum of weird. There’s good-weird. There’s bad-weird. And then there’s just plain weird-weird. Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ Cannes-decorated dark comedy/satire — like his Oscar-nominated ‘Dogtooth’ — falls solidly into the good-weird camp.”–Mike Scott, The Times-Picayune (contemporaneous)
The Lobster – Among the usual items, you can take a personality test here designed to determine what animal you should choose if you fail to find a mate in the next 45 days
IMDB LINK: The Lobster (2015)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Cannes Press Kit – A .pdf file of the press kit submitted to Cannes, with interviews and extensive bios of the cast and crew
Colin Farrell On “The Lobster”: Cannes Film Festival 2015 – Impressive, literate video interview with Farrell conducted by “Deadline Hollywood”
The Lobster: Colin Farrell shares his (spoiler-free) thoughts on the film’s ending – “Entertainment Weekly” discusses the film (and it’s ending) with star Farrell
Colin Farrell: Why I Made ‘The Lobster’ – Another Farrell profile, this time from “Rolling Stone,” and with contributions from director
The locals in Sneem talk about the filming of The Lobster movie in their region – The title of this “Irish Examiner” article explains it all
DVD INFO: The DVD (buy), released by Lionsgate, includes the trailer and the 23-minute mini-doc “The Fabric of Attraction: Concocting The Lobster.” The same features are available on Blu-ray (buy), and of course the film is available to rent or purchase digitally (rent or buy).