The Lobster September 21, 2016
Love is forever the ideal that society unremittingly tells us we have to uphold. Regardless of one’s state of mind or their wants or their needs, going without it is unspeakable in the eyes of a union-worshipping culture. Being loveless for an x number of years must mean that there’s something inherently wrong; being loveless for an x number of years marks you an outsider, a lonelyheart who’s apparently incapable of being completed. To achieve the treasured prize of acquiring mutual adoration is a triumph. But the potential of losing that said prize is a tragedy. How can one go about their daily lives without a companion?
Yorgos Lanthimos’s extraordinary black comedy The Lobster cinematically italicizes society’s strange fascination with marriage with the satirical edges of Jean-Luc Godard’s bleak Alphaville and Luis Buñuel’s bourgeoisie-parodying farces of the 1970s. It isn’t until we sit through its awesome 114 minutes that we happen to analyze our own judgments and our own areas of perceptive manipulation. As most have been raised in a land where the finding of love is more important than any other part of the human experience, all-encompassing is the belief that love trumps all. Which, though mostly true, is so universally fixated upon that the possibility of its being eluded is terrifying for anyone.
The Lobster, while screwily surreal, works so well because Lanthimos convincingly dissects the many layers of our civilization’s all-or-nothing preoccupation. His world of matrimonial mockery is set in the near future, where the act of falling for someone has become a sick commodity to rival the unhealthy fodder sold by television’s Bachelor in Paradise.
In this world, being alone beyond a certain age is indefinitely illegal. Those without a spouse or a passionate lover to tend to them are sent to a near-totalitarianistic hotel that very literally forces them to get a bedfellow in a preposterously brief amount of time. If forty-five days pass and a guest is still single, they are inexplicably turned into any animal of their choice and are set free into a nearby forest to fend for themselves. Masturbation is strictly prohibited, dances and get-togethers are mandatory, and romance idealizing propaganda is performed daily.
Our entrance into this couple crazy house of horrors is David (Colin Farrell), a mild-mannered fortysomething whose wife has recently deserted him for another man. Though David is too unwilling to wear his emotions on his sleeve to cause us to ever consider that maybe he wouldn’t be content with inevitably living as a beast for the rest of his life, he eventually proves that the dementia of this place of living is not habitable for too long a period. Life is temporarily worth living when he bonds with similarly introverted guests (Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly), but as he creeps closer to his last days at the resort before he’s transformed into a lobster (his spirit animal of choice), he spontaneously looks for an escape.
Being unable to rejoin the average population, David connects with The Loners, an anarchical group of revolutionaries that essentially reverse the rules of the game. If one associates with them, lost is the right to fall in love. If one makes the mistake of finding a special someone after declaring membership, one is disciplinarily mutilated. Since David figures that rapport is next to impossible when in the confines of the forceful hotel, becoming a Loner is his best option. But when he unexpectedly fancies himself to be attracted to a near-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) also on the Loner task force, the situation is met with dire complications.
Written by Efthymis Filippou and Lanthimos himself in deadpan style so cutting it’d seem monotone if not for the film’s precise incongruousness, The Lobster, like a brutal game of cinematic Operation, rips apart the societal norms associated with marriage with vigor so deadly and so needle sharp that it’d perhaps be impolite to regard the screenwriters’ satirical vision as anything less than brilliant. Because the approach to its absurdities is chiefly clinical - a wise choice - heightened is the film’s outlandish humor and its mordant trimmings. All scenes set in the hotel shimmer in their stinging wit (the propaganda performances, in particular, are radiantly funny), and later sequences, defiantly set in the rebellious outside, shock in their gasping callousness.
But look closely at Lanthimos’s mockeries and you’ll notice that The Lobster is much more than an odd assortment of bizarro world witticisms. Most rampant is the flaunting of the idea that the population, easy to manipulate when surrounded by the cruel eyes of their peers, is potentially dependent on a set system of unsaid regional rules in order to survive. With current unsaid aphorisms focally declaring that one is not worth as much without someone by their side, The Lobster fundamentally dramatizes fear of singlehood and stresses that we (wrongly) live in a culture that inadvertently deems married people as more important than those who live in solitude.
Then there are the subtleties that further decry the world’s romantic hang-ups. In the film, couples are only allowed to marry if they’re perceived to be the perfect match (men with bad eyesight can only marry women with bad eyesight, men with a limp can only marry women with a limp, etc). Adopted children are governmentally brought in to supplement marriages that appear to be struggling. Greatest of all is the narration (provided by Weisz for nearly an hour before she appears in the movie for the first time), which is delivered with the same modulations of a disinterested high schooler reading someone else’s lusty love poem. Through it does romance suddenly seem done-to-death and boring, an expected achievement that seems flavorless when your life only revolves around searching for it tirelessly.
But The Lobster never rejects love (how trite that would be); it just questions the ceremoniousness that surrounds it, and how worth it it is to frequently make a person’s love life their most defining characteristic. Because the film is more playful than scornful, it’s a jab delivered with a wink and a kiss, by turns frightening, funny, and unexpectedly poignant.
And the material is well-suited toward its ensemble. As David, Farrell gives one of his best performances, a sweetened concoction of vulnerable passivity. Weisz is a sensitive soul who hides her susceptibility in a remote shell, and Léa Seydoux, as the Loner leader, is an embodiment of the aggressions society puts forth on people they’ve decided they know the best for. Reilly and Whishaw steal scenes as David respective lisping and limping pals back at the hotel.
Aside from an ambiguous ending I can’t quite decipher the meaning of, The Lobster is a masterpiece, a provocative contender for the title of the best movie of 2016. A highlight of the decade and a surefire bet for next year’s Oscar ceremony, the film’s individualism solidifies Lanthimos’s standing as one of the most formidable talents of his generation. A