by Yorgos Lanthimos (2015)
Lanthimos creates parallel universes just a little askew from our own.*
That his worlds are still recognisable as planet Earth makes their
weirdness even weirder.
special rule of the‘City’ of The Lobster is thateveryone must have a
sexual partner. If you are unfortunate enough to lose your spouse
through death or disagreement you have 45 days to find a new one. If you
fail, you are turned into the animal of your choice. Animals, of course,
never seem to have any difficulty finding a mate, so that will solve
those 45 days singles are lodged at a large hotel where they can get to
know each other and, hopefully, get spliced.
lost his wife David (Colin Farrell) checks in accompanied by his
brother, Bob, who has recently been turned into a dog having failed to
find a new partner himself. Most people choose a dog, Hotel Manager
(Olivia Colman) tells David, and there are just too many of them, so his
own decision to plump for a lobster is “an excellent choice”.
the first day, David has one hand literally tied behind his back, to
give him a sense of how difficult it is to live without a partner – if
you happen to have one hand tied behind your back. Other supporting
arguments, such as the deterrence of rapists, are put forward in short
simple playlets performed by hotel staff, rather in the manner of
everyone accepts the ideology, though. In the woods surrounding the
hotel live the Loners, who lead a resolutely single life. They are, of
course, a threat to the established order so hotel residents are sent
out to hunt them down, shoot them with tranquiliser darts and drag them
back to the hotel. What happens to them after that is not entirely
reward for every successful ‘kill’, residents are given an extra day
to find a mate. The best at this is Heartless Woman(Angeliki Papoulia)
who, thanks to a ruthless, sadistic streak, has bought herself a
hundred-odd days and is the hotel’s permanent guest.
decides to court her. To understand how he does this, you need to know
another of The Lobster society’s ideologemes: successful partners must
have something in common.
is a familiar piece of common sense in our world, of course, but here it
is an iron law. Which means that David has to pretend he’s heartless,
too. With hilarious consequences.
another example, his new ‘friend’ The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw),
having failed to find someone with a suitable limp, has hooked up with
Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden) thanks to the ruse of repeatedly
bashing his nose on bedside tables and other hard surfaces to make his
nose bleed too.
start to get the idea this is all going to end in tears, and when David
sheds one after Heartless Woman kicks Bob to death his game is up and he
flees to the woods to join the Loners.
in any normal sci-fi the Loners would be the heroic underclass of an
alien world, striking back against tyranny in the cause of freedom.
this lot are no more than a mirror image of the ruling order, outlawing
pair-bonding altogether. Indeed, any display of affection between
members of the tribe is punished by brutally mutilating the
when David falls for fellow Loner Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) we
get something resembling a conventional love narrative as the pair
struggle to express their feelings in the face of society’s
this is achieved through a kind of semaphore but also, in an ingenious
scene, when David and his squeeze, pretending to be a law-abiding couple
in front of the parents of Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) on a visit to the
City, go into a full-on snog on the sofa.
is no escape, though, from the double-bind that structures this society,
neither the binary of pairs or singles with nothing in between, nor,
worse as it turns out, the ‘something in common’ conceit that
everyone, whether they’re in the city or the woods, has internalised
as a natural fact.
still, the cast of The Lobster display symptoms of autism, constantly
having to learn and relearn socially acceptable behaviours and
conversing as though they’re following an instruction manual.
effect of this blackest of black comedies is, perhaps, to make us wonder
whether we haven’t got some dodgy instruction manual at the back of
our heads, living our lives according to assumptions some parallel
universe would find absurd.
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