If you had to live the rest of your life as an animal, what animal would you be? This may sound like your run of the mill Buzzfeed quiz, but is in fact the premise of an absurdist universe conjured up by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos in his fifth feature-length film, The Lobster (2015).
Live long and prosper…as a lonely lobster
David’s wife has left him. A not uncommon yet still sad situation, which in the world of The Lobster has incredibly far-reaching consequences. David (Colin Farrell) gives in to his unfortunate new-found circumstances. A middle-aged man with puppy dog eyes and a slightly slouched posture, he is immediately and without protest checked into a hotel with the sole purpose of finding a new romantic partner in life. If he is unsuccessful within the strict time limit of 45 days, he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing.
Lobsters can live to be a hundred years, boast blue blood, and live in the sea. These are the reasonings behind David’s choice of the lobster as his possible future form. David’s lobster-life will be a punishment – or rather, when speaking within the parametres of the universe, it is society’s solution to dealing with his sad single status. The dignity of living a free human life, is quite simply reserved for those in committed romantic relationships in this dystopian world.
The nightmare of a world without nuance
No one can accuse Yorgos Lanthimos of being an unoriginal director. As a viewer you are flung into a stark and sharp-edged society ruled by unflinching absolutes. This is made clear in amusing fashion when David first checks into the hotel and is required to sign in with his sexual preference. He asks whether bisexuality is an option and is swiftly informed that this was removed a while back. He must choose between the clearly defined binary-upholding choice of hetero- or homosexuality. Put simply; computer says no to any inkling of nuance in this universe.
The ruling class have elevated ‘the romantic relationship’ as the only true way of being a functioning member of society. On the opposite side, outside the city’s clinically clean streets, roaming the wild forests alongside singletons turned beastly, we find the revolutionary loners. They are just as radical in their beliefs of absolutely no romantic human interaction, as the hotel manager is with her insistence of the pairing up of people. The structures are black and white no matter to which side you turn. The people harbour no empathy for another’s preferred way of life.
This absolutism is carried even further into the intricacies of human interaction within the world. The Lobster presents a society hellbent on coupling humans, without ever accounting for the true complicated meeting of people. Everything seems to become a superficial charade in the quest to avoid life as a beast. A match between two people is suddenly based on the physical deficiency they might share with one another. If both within a couple share the same fault, they surely cannot leave for that reason. Personalities, opinions, feelings, and looks are changeable shifting matter. A permanent limp becomes a much more secure base to build a life-time commitment on, in the unfeeling world of The Lobster.
The results are convenient contracts based on fear rather than anything approaching love and true human connection. The world of The Lobster is a frighteningly simplified world, where humans are reduced to their noticeable faults and made to fit within a spreadsheet governing attractions and relations.
The piercing idyll of love and marriage
Where most dystopian tales seem to project an unwanted future, The Lobster is oddly old-fashioned. It portrays a world where companionship is reduced to romantic coupledom. The Lobster presents a dystopian world built on foundations already crumbling away in our modern society, where the permanent single lifestyle has become more prevalent, and the long-term monogamous relationship faces strong competition from an endless variety of ways of living happily.
The dream of the secure nuclear family however still dominates much of society, with its idealized thought of how to be successful and happy. It is perhaps this yearning for that which we are taught ought to make us feel fulfilled, while disregarding the nuanced circumstances and reasons for why that may be, which governs the fascist manner in which society is forcibly coupled in The Lobster.
Thought-provoking absurdity and an uncomfortable view
Yorgos Lanthimos provides us with a world filled with irrational thoughts and institutions, populated by people posing their actions as the pinnacle of rationality and logic. It is a wonderfully absurd film with an added dose of morbid comedy for good measure. The Lobster is frequently funny in particular due to the dry delivery, great comedic timing, and awkward conversations that flourish amongst a talented cast dedicated to portraying the stilted existence of these tragically funny characters.
The Lobster is original, absurd, wonderfully acted, confusing, lingering, and difficult to pin down. It is funny but not particularly entertaining. The detached apathy of the characters, even as they seem to feel something for each other, have each and every one of them remain purposefully robotic and cold, to a degree that makes this an interesting, humorous, but still somewhat unpleasant watch.
I have no longing to reencounter the world and the people of this film. Then again, I don’t believe every film should have that as a goal. When it comes down to it, The Lobster gave me a movie-going experience I do not wish to be without. I will continue to think about the convoluted motivations of the main characters and ruminate on what, if anything, it is trying to say. My head already loves it, my heart is not entirely convinced – but then again, I’m not so sure it needs to be.