“That is none of your concern”
Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos‘ English language debut The Lobster is a dystopian sci-fi romance depicting a world where Paula Abdul doesn’t exist. If these mechanical creatures devoid of emotion heard her 1988 single “Opposites Attract” their woes of the heart might be eased. I say this because while life is hazardous to your health without someone to share it, Lanthimos’ non-descript City strictly inhabited by couples is impossible to traverse without that someone also sharing your “defining characteristic”. To be a match is to be relatable rather than two halves of a whole. To be with a sociopath is to be a sociopath too. Or you could pretend: fake who you are to spark fake love. Since the alternative is being transformed into an animal, it’s a serious consideration.
We enter this cinematic social experiment through the character of David (Colin Farrell). He has never been alone his entire life—like we assume most young adults haven’t. Childhood made way to adolescence, he probably found someone who was shortsighted like him in college, and wedding bells were rung. Sadly, after eleven years and one month his wife met someone else. Now without a spouse or marriage license to show the police roaming the streets for shady loners, David has but two options. Either he runs for the forest to try surviving on his own or he checks into the Hotel to embark on a 45-day program to find a new romantic connection. His brother Bob failed to do exactly this and now he’s a dog (by choice).
Lanthimos and regular writing partner Efthymis Filippou have crafted a wild premise serving as a metaphor for the present chaotic state of love. What’s love to you these days? Is it specifically about a romantic connection? Is it about sexual attraction, financial stability, or societal pressure? A mix of each at the very least ultimately go into the decision and if one or more eventually proves to no longer be viable a divorce lawyer is called to sever the relationship. That proves a messy ordeal like all things unregimented as an exact science do. We don’t need to marry and thus our reasons to do so or not come down to personal preference. And even then who’s to say you wouldn’t actually be happier with someone else?
The City removes these uncertainties by enforcing marriage as a necessity via a misguided explanation of its survival benefits. Without a husband a woman will be raped in the streets. Without a wife a man will choke to death because no one would be there to give him the Heimlich. Suddenly marriage is rendered boring like a job search with each party mentally composing resumes of characteristics he or she needs to find in a suitable match. After all, who wants someone with a limp but someone else with one? Who would deal with a significant other’s constant nosebleeds except someone who understands that struggle him/herself? Marriage is now a contract to live out a human life. Love is merely an antiquated construct feigned to remain alive.
The Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) isn’t a complete sadist, however. She realizes 45 days may not be enough for everyone so she’s added the fun opportunity of hunting loners with tranquilizer darts in order to elongate your stay. Capture a loner so he/she can be transformed (these fugitives have forfeited their right to choose and will become an endangered animal no one generally selects) and you get to stay one more day. This is great for the heartlessly uncompassionate (Angeliki Papulia‘s Heartless Woman) and false hope for the hopelessly harmless (Ashley Jensen‘s Biscuit Woman). The latter must instead try extra hard to acquire a match quickly. Offer sexual favors or fake a “defining characteristic” and hope someone bites. Survive the honeymoon yacht and the City awaits your return.
What makes things even more interesting is that the “loners” have their own set of rules equally oppressive in the opposite way. Their leader (Léa Seydoux) won’t tolerate romance. Flirtation results in the “red kiss”—a brutal form of punishment paling in comparison to a physical union’s “red intercourse”. To be a loner is to be alone. Listen to your discordant electronica music so no one can be in-sync, hide from the Hotel hunters seeking a reprieve, and masturbate without judgment. The forest isn’t another forum to find love; it’s a rejection of it. You fake romance when cavorting around the City to shop or visit family, but it’s just a means to an end. Loneliness is a choice. And here you thought things couldn’t get more depressing.
David tries his hand in both worlds befriending memorable periphery players such as John C. Reilly‘s unfortunate Lisping Man, Jessica Barden‘s young and attractive Nosebleed Woman, and Ben Whishaw‘s determined Limping Man in Act One’s Hotel and Michael Smiley‘s Loner Swimmer, Seydoux’s Loner Leader, and Rachel Weisz‘s enchanting Shortsighted Woman in Act Two’s forest. He learns their rules and how to break them, seeking to escape the consequences each sets up to take troublemakers down. Invasions are planned to unveil the ruse of City “love” and lies are told to punish the weak that attempt to procure individuality from this world of homogeneity. And all the while animals roam throughout the backgrounds—sad souls forgotten and recognizable friends soon to be lost alike.
The Lobster is thought-provoking in its social machinations and hilarious in its dry absurdity, traits that made Lanthimos’ Oscar-nominated Dogtooth so unforgettable. This one isn’t quite as essential, but it’s just as unique. It asks what we’d do for love while its characters connive, mislead, and disfigure to survive without ever asking if love even exists. Love has died because they’ve no time to parse its complexities. Only when death (or transformation) is staring them in the face can they begin to remember what it was like to have a choice to live freely. Only when love permeates their soul do they remember that its power is stronger than self-preservation. In a world where selfishness is king, some may still discover that latent capacity to live for another.
Courtesy of A24