Synopsis: In a dystopian future where individuals are not allowed to be without a mate, David (Colin Farrell) has just been left by his wife. As a result, he must report to a secluded hotel which is home to other single residents and search for a new partner there. If he fails to find a match within forty-five days, he will be transformed into an animal, a lobster in his case, and released into the wild.
At first, David tries to abide by the rules but he soon becomes appalled by the ordeal and flees into the woods. Apparently he’s not the first to escape. There he meets up with a band of rebellious runaways and is attracted to a fellow outcast known as the “Short-Sighted Woman” (Rachel Weisz).
The Lobster 8.0
eyelights: its statements on the place of coupledom in society. its absurdist humour. its beautiful locales. its cinematography.
eyesores: its third act. its callousness
“Back then, he didn’t know how much it hurts to be alone – how much it hurts when you cannot reach to rub pain ointment on your back and you are constantly in pain.”
Ever get the impression that our society is couple-centric? You know… that everything is geared towards being in a relationship with one other person, that being single is a personal failure and being in a relationship with more than one person is transgressive? Well, my friends, single and not, sometimes like to discuss this perceived bias and societal pressure.
Either way, imagine a reality in which coupledom was mandated by society, where it was absolutely not tolerable to be single – and if one was caught living outside of coupledom one would be forcibly removed to the outskirts of town. One would then have 45 days to pair up with other singles – failure for which meant being transformed into an animal of one’s choosing.
Very strange, isn’t it?
And such is the setting of ‘The Lobster’.
Our protagonist, David, is a fairly average-looking middle aged man, heavy set with glasses, a mustache and a full head of black hair. His spouse has recently left him for another man and he is taken out to the Hotel for pairing. But first he has to pick his animal: He chooses a lobster, for longevity and other reasons – forgetting that humans boil and eat them quite regularly.
Once there he is briefed on the various rules at the singles’ Hotel, including, but not limited to:
- They have 45 days to couple up, or else they are surgically transformed into an animal of their choosing and left out in the woods to live their new life. We constantly see animals who have no place being in these woods (peacock, camel, large pig, flamingos, …etc.) wandering about.
- On day one, they have a hand cuffed behind their backs to make them realise that “two is better than one”.
- They have to pair up based on very specific similarities and/or quirks. For instance, the guy with the limp couldn’t find a girl with a limp, so he pretended to have a nose bleed to pair up with the pretty girl with the nose bleed. And David pretends to be heartless so that he can gain the favour of the so-called “Heartless Woman”.
- They are not allowed to masturbate. If they are caught relieving themselves, as punishment their hand is put in a toaster and burned in front of everyone. However, despite not being able to rub one out, in their rooms the maids rub their bottoms on the men’s crotches to stimulate them – so that they will feel more inclined to pair up. It is unknown if the women receive a similar treatment.
- They can buy extra days by hunting the Loners (Hotel escapees who live in the woods) and bringing them back for transformation. For example, the Heartless Woman is a huntress and she now has 140+ days in the bank because she’s so good. But, until David’s arrival, no one wanted to pair up with her because she can be cruel and emotionless.
It’s all very unusual, but it’s fascinating to watch this alternate reality reveal itself to us. We not only get to explore the Hotel, but we are also privy to some glimpses of the City – after David and a few others clandestinely go for supplies. We also get to see its opposite number, the Loners clan, and its extreme rejection of everything that the city represents.
The Loners reject coupledom to such a degree that its members are not allowed to flirt – or, at least, get caught doing it. If anyone is caught kissing, the participants are forced to perform “the red kiss” together (the Loners razor their lips and force them to kiss again). It’s absolutely unforgiving. And then there’s “the red intercourse”. Let’s not even get into that. Ick.
The picture is rather fascinating in its deconstruction of these three groups; it’s impressive just how much thought writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (and co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou) put into it. But it’s more than just a study of a dystopic society, it’s actually a satire of societal conventions laced with deep dark humour and no small amount of absurdity.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
For instance, after David’s (inevitable) escape from the Hotel, he winds up with the Loners and meets a woman who is as near-sighted as he is. Trapped as they are by their group’s stringent rules, they begin to develop a ridiculous set of hand gesture to communicate their love for each other without anyone else finding out. They’re about as subtle as baseball coaches.
And when they go to the City, since they have to “pretend” to be a couple there, they take advantage of that. There’s a hilarious scene when they’re making out at the group leader’s parents’ house while the parents are playing music. They get completely out of control, until the leader corrects them. The whole time you just want to scream at the screen: “Get a room!”
Unsurprisingly, their leader eventually understands what’s transpiring and decides to test the couple’s mettle: she brings the girl to the City for a procedure to fix her eyesight. Even though she knows that this would likely mean the end of her relationship with David, she presumably feels that she can’t refuse without drawing attention to them and she goes along.
This is when the film falls apart.
Firstly, it’s bad enough that this scene came out of nowhere, but we don’t exactly understand why she goes along with it. But, secondly, for reasons that escape me, the doctor blinded her at the leader’s request. Can a doctor do that? It felt contrived, perhaps as a metaphor for the way she didn’t stand up for their relationship, how she allowed herself to be blinded.
Then, immediately after this, another scene came out of nowhere:
Suddenly, she, the leader and a former maid are in the woods and she’s waving a knife at the other two. What happened? What’s missing? So the leader put the maid between them and has the blind girl stab the maid by mistake. Conveniently, the maid doesn’t scream out, identifying herself. And the blind girl seems to forget that the maid ever existed; she doesn’t even ask for her help.
It’s as though the maid’s suddenly disappeared from everyone’s consciousness.
It makes no sense.
And it gets worse.
At the end, David and the girl go back to the City together and the plan is that he’ll blind himself so that they can be together. So they go to a roadside restaurant, they get drinks and he excuses himself to go to the bathroom. He looks at himself in the mirror and takes out a knife, pointing it directly at his eye, at a 90 degree angle, with the intention jabbing it right in.
Then we returned to the girl waiting in the restaurant. And the screen went black.
This was a bone of contention in the group I went with. Some felt that David had actually gone ahead and blinded himself, “for love” (Ahem…). Some felt that going black was a sign that he had made himself blind. Except it seems logical that this would have happened after we saw David in the bathroom. Watching the girl waiting, to me, meant that he had bailed on her.
She was going to wait a while.
In any event, the bathroom sequence was a harsh moment: Since the film had been brutal, unflinching in its violence (what little there is of it), it was hard to watch that part – we had to expect that David would go ahead and do it, and that Lanthimos would show us. Some of us looked away. But it was just a false alarm – not only did we not see it, he may not have done it.
I swear, when we returned to the girl, I was looking in the background to see if we could see David sneaking away somewhere.
No such luck: I saw nothing. But I’ll watch it again someday and pay even more attention.
He must be there.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
‘The Lobster’ is a truly original piece of work, both in its satire and in its commentary (there’s a scene when the Loners return to the Hotel to spotlight the fraudulence of the relationships there that’s cynical but unforgettable), but even the performances are unique, with stiff readings serving as a function of this alternate reality’s dispassionate, dehumanized society.
It’s an unforgettable motion picture, one for the ages, and it’s incredible conversation fodder with the right crowd – so many questions about our relationship models, societal expectations, the human need/desire for connection, …etc., come up here. It makes me want to watch Lanthimos’ previous films, ‘Kynodontas’ and ‘Alpeis ‘, which I understand are equally memorable.
If they’re even remotely as potent as this one, they’ll be worth exploring.
Date of viewing: April 9, 2016