The Lobster, released in 2015, marked the debut of the Greek filmmaker – Yorgos Lanthimos into English films; he directed, co-wrote and co-produced it. This absurd comedy is dystopian and could be characterised by its continuous lack of emotions portrayed in the film. It is the description of a world where being single is a criminal act – and people are sent to a hotel where they are supposed to find another mate in 45 days, or they would be turned into an animal of their choice. The protagonist David (Colin Farrell) has been left by his wife for another man, and is hence escorted to the hotel to find a suitable partner for himself. He is an aging man, with average looks, and in that sense, he represents a perspective that could be extended to anyone watching the film. He is shown to have little to no self-awareness initially, and that is the feel of the entire film.
The movie is slow-paced but interesting, ominous yet funny at certain points, and reminded me in some ways of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (a better movie, in my opinion). Dystopian stories are always interesting to the effect that they portray a deeper sense of fear of society in a way that can only be understood if we focus on the current world we live in. While Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is deals with a more personal desire, a desire to get rid of all memories that are painful (and the fear that that concept is flawed and painful by itself), The Lobster deals with a more ordinary fear – a fear of being alone. The movie has an absurd plot, and the importance of being a couple is greatly exaggerated in this dystopian movie. And why not? In our current society, a lot of importance is placed on the existence of romantic love and how to find it. This may be in the form of advertisements, films, music and any other media that is consumed by the masses. The industry around Valentine’s day is pegged to be around Rs. 15 billion in India alone, keeping in account the six days leading up to it. Indian films are not exempt from this obsession of happy endings in terms of romantic love. The need to belong to a couple is recreated by advertisements everyday – take the example of Closeup toothpaste advertising. Not only this, an app like Tinder is generating huge amounts of traffic, with close to 800 million swaps in a day and more than 1,00,000 subscribers around the world, and this is just Tinder; there are a variety of other similar apps that people use. The notion of needing to find a romantic interest, in whatever form, is heavy and undeniably strong.
In this scenario, The Lobster does not seem as outlandish an idea. People in the film are supposed to find one matching quality between each other which will then be approved by authorities to be appropriate. Since none of the people in the film (other than David) are given names, I will use the characteristics that we know about them, that eventually become their defining characteristics. The man with the limp hits his face hard against a surface to be able to get frequent nosebleeds so that he could match with another woman who seemingly got nosebleeds for no reason. This characteristic of getting nose bleeds randomly is seen to be an acceptable criteria of match-making in the film. Other such characteristics include heartlessness, short-sightedness, having a limp, and possibly even liking butter cookies. These shallow ways of looking at people becomes the heart of the film, drawing inspiration from the world we actually live in.
In such a world, the conversations between people with the intention of finding a suitable partner are absurd and vexatious in nature. There is no real discussion, and the characters are reduced to being robotic when it comes to dealing with other people. This hostile scenario has also led to the beginning of a group of people who are all single, and live outside of the law, in a jungle. This is the part of the film that was relatively weaker in my opinion, and I yearned to see more of the inside of the hotel and how people behaved there. However, amidst the people who were single, being a couple was forbidden. Any kind of flirting was punishable. David is then thrown into a scenario where not being able to find a couple results in death, and finding a perfect partner for himself is impossible, even after he meets the woman who is short sighted (Rachel Weisz), who had been narrating the story the whole time. Her narration is flaccid and unappealing, completely in harmony with the rest of the film. The way the actors speak, as well, made me feel like they were reading from a script directly without emoting it all, which adds to the feeling of how robotic they had become.
So what is the real fear the movie is trying to portray? Is it the fear of being alone? It seems like the movie’s ultimate discomfort lies in the fact that choosing romance and love has become too automated and shallow, that it is difficult to judge why exactly a partner is required at all. If falling in love and getting married is only so to the purpose of having company while growing old, someone to save you when you are drowning or choking, or even getting raped, love becomes a futile concept. This futility is described in the film in full detail, with love being a process for both the protagonists. Is this futility a symbol of our world today, where the process of finding love or even sex becomes a matter of quick judgment and superficial thinking? If you believe this to be a crucial way in looking at romance and sex, then this movie is a wonderful commentary about what we should be fearing if we keep heading towards this path.