I left The Lobster in deep thought, trying to figure out what I had just seen. Was this meant to be a parody response to all the young adult dystopian novels that have become all the rage? Is it an admission that rebelling is pointless? Is it really a love story? And above all, is it good or bad?
The Lobster was advertised as a straight forward romantic comedy that just happens to take place in a dystopian future where singles are doomed to be morphed into animals. That does not nearly begin to accurately describe it. Director Yorgas Lanthimos was not interested in creating a romantic comedy.
What interested him was destroying the trope that “love conquers all.” Think about how much emphasis was put on Peeta and Katniss’s relationship in The Hunger Games to the point that it overwhelmed the plot. Think about how Winston and Julia in 1984 viewed their sexual activity as the ultimate rebellion against Ingsoc. The doomed lovers in The Lobster don’t view their actions in the same way, which makes for a more interesting think piece.
Yes, the film does begin with the idea the ad campaign emphasized. David (Colin Farrell) the only character in The Lobster to be given a name, checks into a hotel where he is required to find a life partner in 45 days. If he fails, he is turned into the animal of his choice. (The film implies that all animals on the planet are singles who were unlucky in love – I’ll get to that in a moment.) He meets some of the other hotel denizens, including the Lisping Man (John C Reilly), the Limping Man (Ben Whitshaw), and the Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), who David tries to form a relation with to spare being turned into a lobster. But, after that sours, David goes to live with the Loners, a group of people that live in the woods and forbid sexual and romantic relations with anyone. While with The Loners, David meets the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) and finally finds his match. They must keep their relationship a secret from the Loner Leader (Lea Soydeux).
I might be wrong about some of these details because the film doesn’t explain a whole lot about the world at large. But that’s actually one of its strengths. The Lobster resolves one of the biggest problems with dystopian works; if society has worked this way for some time, why would anyone living in this future need the exactly rules explained to them? The people in The Lobster don’t bother to explain the laws of the society or even where or when the film takes place – or why relationships are mandatory.
I know there are some audiences that are going to be frustrated with the lack of explanations about how this society was formed. I found it to raise a lot of profound questions about the world. For example, the Short-Sighted Woman states that rabbit is her favorite food. But if the animals are just transformed people, then isn’t this the equivalent of cannibalism? When humans are transformed into animals, do they retain their memories? Do they remain self aware?
The film never says, but it’s not important to the narrative that is being created. These questions are meant for the audience so that we feel the horror the characters do not feel. They are so used to what is happening that they lack the capacity to question it. Even the Loner “rebels” aren’t really fighting against the system. They’re creating an inverse of The Hotel for the point of rebelling, kind of like that 20 year old who refuses to get a job and spends his days on Snapchat complaining about how people never really speak to each other. And the way they treat their members is no better than the methods The Hotel uses to bring people together, making it impossible for one side to appear correct.
David is a very reluctant protagonist. Think about The Hunger Games and how the entire society was built to be rebelled against by the downtrodden. No character in The Lobster rebels against “the system” out of some deep political ideal. It’s due to their personal circumstances. David was perfectly willing to participate in the system and only rebels after his attempts to lie his way into a relationship goes wrong.
The fact that its approach to dystopia is so unconventional makes the film frustrating at times. There’s no major antagonist and the unanswered questions distracted me. And the ending is the exact opposite of most work, in which rebellion may be pointless and conformity may be the ultimate key to happiness, no matter how painful it is to conform. But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized The Lobster was ahead of me. It insists on teasing audience with this world and hoping they’ll think about what it all means and how, in an age of Tinder, we’re treating relationships like a commodity. And there’s no real major antagonists because David, as we’ve established, is never fighting for change. Maybe that ending is just David realizing that doing something for another person is rebellion enough. I keep saying “maybe,” because I still haven’t made up my mind. I’ll probably need to see The Lobster again, which is something I rarely say these days.
The Lobster requires a lot of patience going into it, but it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. Perhaps the best thing is that there are no real answers to the questions I posed in the first paragraph. The best experience you can have with the film has a far greater impact than reading about the film. It’s subtle, hilarious, and insightful. It’s the most effective dystopian movie since Never Let Me Go.