Movie Review : The Lobster (2015)
The Lobster is a weird movie. This is not an original take at all. It's the opinion most people who have seen it since its release in 2015 tend to have. It was co-written and directed by a man named Yorgos Lanthimos, who somehow convinced Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly, Rachel Weisz and other talented actors to feature in it. I have no idea who he is and how he did that. It had a short, quiet but respectable theater run despite going mostly unnoticed by mainstream audiences. There are clear reasons for that. The Lobster is cagey, impersonal and oddly whimsical at times, like a Wes Anderson movie suffering from a schizoaffective disorder. Is it a good movie, though? This is a more difficult and personal question to answer, but I've enjoyed it. It's possible you end up hating The Lobster, but I believe my reasons for liking it are valid.
If you're looking for an explanation of the movie, you're in the right place *.
The story of The Lobster is set in a dystopian society where single people are required by law to find a life partner in 45 days or else be transformed in an animal of their choice. When David (Colin Farrell) is dumped by his wife of eleven years, he is escorted to the hotel where romance is enforced on awkward and uninteresting singles like him. The hotel has many strict rules and residents can only match with someone with who they share a common trait : limping, occasional nosebleeds, psychopathic behavior, it doesn't have to make sense to work. The only way residents can extend their stay is by hunting "loners" who live in the woods and reject every possible forms of romance, so that they can be turned into animals. David is terrified of his fate of becoming a lobster and terrified of having to court uninteresting women, yet cannot resign himself to either of these options.
The Lobster is a textbook postmodern movie. It's a story that's aware it's a story. It has a narrator that becomes a character halfway through. It's also an uproarious deconstruction of the overused dystopian tropes in American movies: the movie is set in a boring present rather than a dramatic, war-torn future; it's featuring uninteresting middle-aged adults instead of young and soulful people; love is enforced upon the oppressed population instead of hatred and so on. It's a funny exercise, but it's not silly by any means. Oppression likes to wear a cloak of normalcy. This is the way things are for the characters of The Lobster and not necessarily a powerful injustice to have the State forcing you into unsuitable domesticity. Not only it's an indictment of conformity, it criticizes neoliberalism's endgame too. People become caught in similar, not necessarily suitable lifestyles and whoever disagrees is chased into the woods and marginalized.
If you look a little closer into The Lobster, it becomes quite existential. The "being transformed into an animal of your choice" gimmick is a stand-in for mortality. When they first arrive in the hotel, choosing an animal is meant to define them. The hotel manager herself congratulates David for choosing a lobster, commenting that most people are satisfied to become dogs, alluding at their banal and interchangeable personalities. So, there is both an impulse of life and death in choosing an animal for David, who betrays his unwavering optimism to find a partner in picking a lobster: an animal renowned for its fertility and its longevity. David wants to adopt its characteristics, yet is terrified of turning into one. He also rejects quite energetically the more nihilistic attitude of "loners", who dig their own graves and ponder upon their own deaths.
The movie does a tremendous job at not falling in love with its own gimmick, which is important to the existential subtext. Animals are all over the film, yet never at the forefront. They are mementos of singles who have departed to another plane of existence, not unlike headstones. There's a fascinating scene halfway in the movie where a young woman is transformed into a miniature pony after failing to find a partner in 45 days and her best friend is allowed to kneel in front of her and say her goodbyes like she was at the cemetery. The pony doesn't acknowledge her at any moment, leaves the frame and is never heard of again in the movie. Turning into an animal is The Lobster's representation of the afterlife for people deemed useless in a secular, utilitarian society, which is both adorable and speaking to our ineptitude at dealing with our own mortal nature.
The Lobster is a movie meant to be picked apart and discussed. The last thing Yorgos Lanthimos wanted here was to give you a two hours of whimsical respite. If you want to enjoy this movie, you have to be all-in or you're going to end up confused and perhaps even angry. I've enjoyed The Lobster because of its multifaceted nature and its bleak, deadpan humor. It also has one of the most perfect endings I've seen in recent memories. Most movies tend to overstay their welcome and offer an unnecessary level of close to their audience. Not here. Yorgos Lanthimos leaves it up to you, which is something that doesn't happen enough. Not enough directors trust their audiences to draw their own conclusions. The Lobster is exactly like eating lobster at a restaurant. It's challenging, messy and perhaps a little cruel, but the result is delicious if you put enough effort into it.
* No spoilers. It's not the kind of movie you can easily spoil anyway.