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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


  The Lobster


Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (2015)

Yorgos 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.

The 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 your problem.

During those 45 days singles are lodged at a large hotel where they can get to know each other and, hopefully, get spliced.

Having 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”.

For 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 Brechtian lehrstucke.

Not 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 clear.

As 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.

David 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.

This 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.

In 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.

You 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.

Now, 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.

But 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 transgressors.

So 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 disapproval.

Chiefly 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.

There 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.

Stranger 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.

The 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.

*See also Dogtooth

November 9, 2015

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