The protagonist of The Lobster is named David. Most of the other characters have no name. They are instead identified by physical characteristics; examples include The Limping Man and The Lisping Man. These people are stilted and nearly joyless. They are sent to a hotel for forty-five days during which they must fall in love with a mate. If they fail, they will be turned into an animal. David’s animal of choice is the lobster because, as he explains to the hotel manager, “I’ve always loved to swim.” David’s brother accompanies him in the form of a dog—an omen.
In this world, however, love does not exist. The whimsy of love has been exhausted. In a desperate attempt to save his life, Limping Man fakes nosebleeds in order to match with a mate, a woman for whom nosebleeds are chronic. Their new bond is celebrated by a dance in the hotel ballroom. They will be given a child and a yacht on which to spend their time. At this point, David only has a few weeks left.
There are genuine moments of humor throughout. The cast must commit blindly to the stunt, and they do. Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Léa Seydoux are fantastic in their roles. Yet viewing this movie is a miserable experience. Nearly every character is vile and unfunny. I found no good reason to root for any of them, or to examine them any closer than on a surface level. The delivery of dialogue is cold and robotic, as if the actors are being fed lines off screen, reading and speaking them for the first time. The film is too smug, too overbearing and self-hating, to qualify as a commentary on anything. The Lobster intends to be satire, but is too closed off and isolated to say anything truly meaningful, existing solely to make you upset for having ever believed in love or kindness or good in the world.
Yet it is strikingly well made. The Lobster is the fifth feature length work by writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, and it represents a complete mastery of style. For all its faults, the film was made exactly in the way its maker intended. There is no shot or cut that does not feel completely assured, controlled, and meaningful. I have criticized this film for its dedication to celebrating hatred, validating it even, but there are lasting images so cruel and shocking that one cannot help but be intrigued. Lanthimos’s previous work, such as Dogtooth and Alps, shows a similar assuredness, as well as a desire to tell stories of repulsiveness and pity from a distance so great we cannot know these characters. We can have only a sense of them. Dogtooth succeeded because the audience was not complicit in the cruelty of the film. The Lobster has an unspoken anger to it, as if the filmmaker is looking for someone, anyone, to blame.
Eventually, David comes across a resistance group in the forest. There is only one rule in this group and it is in opposition to affection. It becomes difficult to tell which would be better: true love shared in secret or false love celebrated by all. True love has severe consequences in this film’s universe. It is meant to be destroyed, mocked, exposed as a sham. This segment almost feels like a different movie, its events independent of those we saw earlier. It is this disjointedness that causes the film to deflate.
This is a quiet film; music is used sparingly. Lanthimos understands the power of sound and uses it to his advantage. To yell or scream is to express, and to express in The Lobster is to reveal pain. Rather than yell or scream, David says little. He moves slowly and without animation. He is a zombie. The characters we watch are traumatized, scared and regressive. They are sent into the forest with guns in order to hunt each other. Every kill earns a longer stay, more time at the hotel.
The film’s opening scene is seemingly unrelated to the entire rest of the plot. A woman is driving her car in the rain. She finds two donkeys grazing in a field. She shoots one of them in the head. Is the donkey her husband? Brother? Boyfriend, boss, mailman? Who is this woman? I don’t know. What’s worse, I don’t care.
By the film’s end—its final moments are either hilarious or tragic depending on how you look at it—we have nothing to hold on to. I personally was left wondering what the hell the point was. There are many ideas at work, but they never fall into place. In an interview at Cannes, co-writer Efthimis Filippou said, “[The Lobster] tries to describe how it is to be a partner of someone and how it is to be by yourself in life.” The Lobster manages to create an atmosphere of such severe isolation that it becomes impenetrable and downright aggressive. But it is also a rousing success.
Written by Lucas Dispoto