The Lobster (2015)

*. The Lobster falls under the big umbrella-label of art film. One characteristic of such films is that they are hard to stick into genre pigeonholes, which is certainly the case with The Lobster. Another characteristic is the gap between critical and broader public audience response, which was also the case when this film came out.
*. People who dislike movies such as The Lobster usually do so because they find them pretentious and/or mystifying. This is unfortunate in the case of The Lobster because I don’t think it’s that obscure. I don’t much care for the vague ending, but up until then it seems straightforward enough.
*. Not, however, according to director Yorgos Lanthimos. He didn’t think the movie had a particular message, preferring to leave things open for interpretation. About all he would say of the film is that it was about love. This it is, but note that David (Colin Farrell) and the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) are the only people we see who we can credibly see as being in love. To my eye, The Lobster is a movie that inveighs against love. Or at least against love as a series of social conventions. Which, as I was taught in university, were just an invention of medieval culture anyway. All this may seem like an odd thing to say, but I’ll try to explain.

*. At first we’re presented with love as an enforced duty. You partner up or you get sent to the love hotel, where you’re given 45 days to find your soulmate or else be turned into an animal of your choice. In the meantime, people staying at the hotel amuse themselves by going on forest hunts where they shoot “loners”: singletons who live a life of communal isolation, rather like the book people at the end of Fahrenheit 451.
*. This much seems like a fairly obvious satire of couples culture and the way society pressures people to conform to its norms. Dating is so mechanically arranged everyone even wears the same clothes while staying at the hotel. It’s telling that David doesn’t have the option of declaring himself bisexual on his intake form (we may read his hesitancy as either genuine uncertainty or surprise at his own indifference). This is because bisexuality would be too complicated. The human animals in this meat market are to sort themselves out two-by-two.

*. Unfortunately, the loners in the woods aren’t presented as in any way superior to the lovers in the city. Indeed, they’re just as cruel and authoritarian in their strictures against any flirtation. These aren’t swinging singles practising free love but chronic masturbators who like to dance with themselves, indeed almost by themselves, while listening to iPods. They are the featherless biped equivalents to the camels and flamingos wandering around the forest (presumably hotel guests who have been transformed).

*. The forest-city split may be significant. Do the loners represent man in a state of nature? In other words, is civilization and cohabitation unnatural, a way of life in need of state power to sustain it? None of the couples seem very happy with each other.
*. One thing that may bear on your answer to that has to do with the matter of procreation. The sex people talk about is all non-procreative and porny. We do see David and the Heartless Woman going at it, but can we imagine her getting knocked up? Meanwhile, children are automatically provided to the couples who do pair off, saving them a lot of extra work, not to mention intercourse. So how “natural” is any of this?
*. The real evil, or false god, is love itself. The only way to make oneself compatible with one’s partner is through violence and self-mutilation. If Limping Man wants to pair off with Nosebleed Woman he’s going to have to bash his head against a wall to make his own nose bleed. If David wants to match Short Sighted Woman’s blindness he’s going to have to carve his eyes out with a steak knife. Or perhaps just lie and say he did. But then, lovers’ lies are always being discovered. In any event, love is a destroyer. It may provide some legal or social benefits (men won’t choke to death while eating alone, women won’t be raped), but that’s all the good that will come of it.
*. Can we imagine David and his blind lady being happy? Perhaps listening to guitar music together on the couch. But aside from that moment they don’t seem like happy people, and being together won’t likely change that.

*. That The Lobster is a movie about love is of course ironic because everyone we meet is a robot, pretending to have feelings only with difficulty (and not very convincingly). They are as mechanical in their lusts as in their cruelties, and indeed they seem to enjoy the latter more. The disability of the Heartless Woman doesn’t stand out among the other guests at the hotel.

*. I can only assume Lanthimos instructed Farrell to deliver his lines in that unnatural, oddly punctuated way that mocks the normal rhythms of speech. To make him sound more robotic? I guess that fits with his character here, but he speaks the same way in The Killing of a Sacred Deer so I’m guessing it’s just something Lanthimos likes to do. Maybe he’s not that comfortable with English. I find it affected.
*. I’ve said I don’t care for the ending. It seems too intentionally mystifying, tacked on just to leave the audience with something to mull over. Personally I was reminded of the end of Five Easy Pieces, and kept expecting to see David outside the window pulling a runner. But maybe he’ll go through with his operation. What I find surprising is the number of reviewers who speak of this as a test of his love. This it may be, but then so much for love.
*. The title refers to David’s choice of being transformed into a lobster if things don’t go well for him at the hotel. He picks a lobster because lobsters have a lot of sex throughout a very long life. Which, oddly, doesn’t seem like a lot of fun, or very much like David. Then again, all the characters here, couples and loners, seem already partially transformed in the sense of missing something human.

*. Well, Lanthimos wanted to make a movie that would get people talking and he succeeded, at least in my case. And in fact The Lobster is a movie I really enjoyed and highly recommend, at times in spite of itself. There’s a real whiff of Godard about it, with the unnamed city, which is Dublin, standing in for the loveless Alphaville. But there’s more to chew on than you usually get with Godard, and the photography, which is terrific, looks more comforting and commercial in an ironic way.
*. The biggest irony, however, is that a movie about, or against, love is so drained of feeling, as though putting contemporary apathy to the test. I mentioned how the characters seem to have already been transformed into something less than human (not having names helps in this regard). But the whole landscape feels post-human, with individuals sliding back into that freely celibate state of nature. The countdown to transformation is always there in the background for the hotel residents, but it seems beside the point for us because we’re past all that now.

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