In life, love is a complicated emotion. One that drives us, infatuates us, and clouds our better judgement. It is something complex and flawed, but a gift that we aspire to attain. In The Lobster, the latest film Yorgos Lanthimos, love is much more base and simple — becoming more of a means to a better end rather than a primal desire. Love is simplified, quantified, and corporatized, but the film’s reality is not as off-base as our own.
Just like us, the quest in life is to find love with a partner and for those inhabiting this alternative universe in The Lobster, it may mean those unequipped with accomplishing on their own to check into a special hotel that gives them 45 days to find a partner before they are changed into an animal of their choice.
This is the quandary facing David (Colin Farrell), who enters the hotel after a long-term relationship ended. David feels alone and that feeling doesn’t go away in this hotel that separates the singles from the couples like some glorified romantic concentration camp. Joining David are the Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) and Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), who face the same reality as David does in this self-made mausoleum.
The most striking feature of The Lobster is its examination in love, which seems to take place in a world disconnected from our modern advancements, but also aware of their existence in a more spectral sense.
Today, love is quantified by technology and its rise and dependence in every day life. We meet someone, we begin to chat via text or the Internet, we research each other using social media and other means, we come prepared with knowledge that allows us cordial conversation, and we hope that this is enough to generate some admiration and affection for the other in order to move forward.
The Lobster feels aware of this ritual and Lanthimos seems to be commenting on how disconnected and dejected we are as people even with these devices that can connect us to anyone and anywhere. As David begins to look around at the other people at this hotel, mainly the women, he is expected to peer at them with a hunting mentality rather than a courting one. This plays into the joke that these members of the hotel go out every so often to hunt in the forest for the loners — men and women who escaped this necessity to become one and live freely on their own.
This mentality seems foreign to David, who watches and becomes annoyed with how his friends interact with prospective partners. Namely the Limping Man, who discovers that one woman suffers from nosebleeds and confides in David that he has begun smashing his head against various objects around him in order to cause his own nosebleed. This leads to a courtship between the two and a remark by the hotel manager (played by Olivia Colman) that this couple suffers from nosebleeds.
Lanthimos is infatuated with these subtleties in relationships and how something as trivial as having a nosebleed can be a foundation for a winning union between these two people. David realizes the absurdity of this — even going as far as to reveal this fact to the woman later on in the film — but it becomes a fact that she doesn’t care about. Society dictates that we find that one person suitable to live with us for the rest of our days and she has avoided becoming an animal. There is no going back, and while the foundation of her relationship is based on some asinine lie, she doesn’t care and seems unmotivated to react to what is happening in front of her.
It would seem that there is still a beacon of hope in the world and that true love and affection can be achieved when David meets the Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz), who is one of the loners in the group that brings him in after his escape from the hotel. The two get along candidly, and while they share a slight astigmatism that brings them together, there is clearly a rapport between the two that establishes true romance.
But that is not the goal of The Lobster, which is cynical in its views on love and romance even for its main character, and wants to say that whatever choice we make leads us to a path of conformity and assimilation.
David seemed to be the breaker of the chains, and a man seeking to elevate himself from the banalities of this world’s version of love and romance, but in the end, as he stands in the bathroom staring into the mirror, he is making a choice to live the life he thought he was escaping. As the Short Sighted Woman waits for his return from the table, their life is less one of liberation, but one of subtle confinement.
The Lobster does not offer any rays of hope for life’s aspiration of love, but it doesn’t feel completely off-base. We may try to fight against the tide of technology and intimacy that drives our culture today, but in the end, we stand in the same spot as David and the Short Sighted Woman. Lanthimos is saying that whatever path we take, it still ends in the same lonely and mundane place that the others took.
I’m not sure it is saying why bother because there are blissful moments in The Lobster that show the power that true romance can have over people and how lovely it is to be confined to that bubble of passion. There are multiple paths we can take, but the end goal is the same so do we forge on and try to establish ourselves or do we just submit?
Personally, becoming a dog doesn’t sound all that bad.