A lobster has blue blood like an aristocrat, lives more than 100 years and always remains fertile. That’s more than most humans can hope for.
“A lobster is an excellent choice,” the hotel manager tells David.
She of the great one-liners (Olivia Colman) has just forced David (Colin Farrell) to choose an animal to become in case he fails to couple up. Becoming an animal would give him a second chance to find his other half. But the other half has to be of a similar species.
From the start, David appears to be different. You can see that he gave the question a lot of thought beforehand, while most others simply choose to become a dog, like his own brother who follows him around. Also, he didn’t “burst into tears” when his partner (wife) of “11 years and one month” left him, making him single for the first time in his life.
And you? If you could be any animal, which would you choose?
The Lobster (2015) shows us a world where breaking up can be lethal. It hurts a lot more than it does in ours, if you take it literally. It means possibly getting your body parts ripped off and remade (no one magically turns into an animal). The alternative, if single, is to join the resistance – “the loners.” But life with them is also no walk in the park (pun intended).
The heartbreak hotel here is an actual, literal place where people go right after a separation, be it a breakup or a death.
The loners and pair-seekers live in a constantly overcast dystopian society (Britain?) created by Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. He also made Dogtooth, a brutal and tender movie about in-family oppression, derangement, lies, paranoia, delusion… and also love. (That scenario can be applied to dating, too.) In The Lobster, like in Dogtooth, you’re surprised to which lengths people will go to survive… and how cruel human beings can be to each other.
Life has taught them to be mercilessly resourceful sometimes. The wife of one character, the “Limping Man” (Ben Whishaw) died just six days earlier. Desperate not to be alone, he pretends to be someone else to get with a young attractive girl (does that sound familiar?). So he makes his nose bleed on a regular basis, because she has a nosebleed problem. You see, everyone in that society is defined by one quirk, and that one quirk is used to determine a match.
The “Limping Man” has had his share of trauma. His mother – after his father left her for someone who was “better at math” – had become a wolf. She had been thrown in a zoo cage where he couldn’t tell her apart from the others anymore. Would this be a metaphor for a divorced woman whose inner wolf is oppressed due to the labels society has given her?
Indeed, metaphors for our own romance-obsessed society begin to emerge early in The Lobster. The idea of not being complete unless paired up. The idea that there’s something inherently wrong with being single, or a loner – taken to a dehumanizing extreme here. Again, those who fail to pair up become animals, unless they manage to run away and hide out.
Romance is as likely to bloom in the Lobster hotel as a Victoria amazonica does in the desert.
David spends his first night in the hotel room with one hand handcuffed to his body – to feel how much easier things are with two rather than one. He goes to a painfully awkward breakfast and a painfully awkward dance.
Checking into the hotel, David asked whether there was the option of classifying himself as a “bisexual.” He doesn’t quite fit into the sexual preference labels they were trying to slap on him. The option, however, recently became unavailable due to several “operational problems,” the clerk informs him. We get a sense that perhaps he’s unable to fit in being single or one half of a couple in this world.
Aren’t many of us?
David is Colin Farrell like I’d never seen him before: as a paunchy, middle-aged guy with an intelligence and sensitivity above average. He’s good at being nearly expressionless, like everyone else in the movie, so his acting doesn’t need to be good (like Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix.) The voice of Rachel Weisz, strangely mechanical, introduces him to us, and guides us through his stay at the heartbreak hotel. He has 45 days to find a new partner, or else lobster it is.
We get to meet Weisz as “Short Sighted Woman” later on, and we see that her acting skills still come through above most in the movie. You can feel the passion right underneath the surface of her deeply ingrained pain, of her forcefully subdued exterior. Kudos also go to John C. Reilly as the perpetually unlucky “Lisping Man,” and I kind of liked Bond Girl Léa Seydoux as the “Loner Leader” – the one facial expression she used in Spectre actually worked out here.
Hotel patrons shoot those who have gone rogue in the woods with a tranquilizer gun, and sometimes attack them with gun barrel and punches. If caught, they are literally beaten into submission to the dictatorship of relationships. For each loner they capture, guests get an extra day to stay at the heartbreak hotel and keep on looking.
In which camp will David ultimately fit better – the loners or the pair-seekers?
Will he accept what mainstream society is so forcefully imposing on him? Will he find his match in “Short Sighted Woman?” Even for us, in real life, it’s difficult to strike a balance between individuality and being part of a couple, a family, even of society as a whole.
When a series of events leads David to join the loners in the woods (rather than trying to beat them), you get to see that in their militant reaction against society, and desire to (violently) separate themselves from anything that defines it, they may also be oppressed.
Can you get through The Lobster’s drabness to appreciate its comedic and romantic depth?
Sometimes, the metaphors are too blatantly obvious – like the idea of a couple trying to force things to work out to conform to other people’s expectations, projecting an artificial happiness, and hoping having kids (in this case, assigned kids) will help redirect energies from their arguing and thus curb it. Or the message that even those who appear to prefer being single actually long, deep inside, to be a couple.
Ultimately, what stays with you, is that one cannot be happy either way… and that true love is actually blind. But wait – is that a glimmer of hope I see?
I do appreciate the deep dark humor, and found myself chuckling loudly – alone.
Movie showtimes for The Lobster @ Leipzig
(English with German subtitles)