'The Lobster' is a love story for a world that no longer values intimacy and compassion. Relationships are a necessary evil, exercises in power and role play. Therefore, it's quite surprising that t-shirts aren't assigned at birth, labelled either 'Dominant' or 'Submissive'.
Singleness is viewed as deviant and something to be discouraged. The simple fact that within the film single people are given a time period to find their 'significant other', prior to being turned into a creature of their choice if they are unsuccessful, underlines how society views those who have not successfully coupled up. The world portrayed within this film is not a million miles from western civilisation today, where loners are perceived as threats or simply weird.
David (played by Colin Farrell) like many others before him arrives at a hotel. This hotel is full of single people and also most tellingly, successful people who have coupled up as a result of the rituals and practises performed within the hotel (the successful couples are seated separately from the singles during meal times). David has a dog with him who was formerly his brother. The implication being that David's family has a history of bad luck surrounding relationships. David's previous relationship appears to have gone wrong, hence his need to be at the hotel.
The hotel offers its residents every available method at its disposal to help find the 'ideal' partner. Its methods are not about love at first sight but about proving yourself and demonstrating your strengths and if necessary, weaknesses to lure in your future partner. The single people spent most of their time with one arm fastened behind their back, reminding them that symbolically and physically that coupling makes life easier. They are also given talks and demonstrations exploring how being alone is essentially a dangerous act. In one particularly funny scene, a man sits alone on a stage mimicking eating and begins to choke. He subsequently suffocates. The scene is repeated with a significant other who spots that he is choking and performs the Heimlich manoeuvre on him, saving his life.
The hotel also dissuades masturbation. Historically, this is not unusual. Some religions actively punish people who choose to masturbate. Playing with yourself is considered an evil act. But viewed from other perspectives, it serves to release a build up of stresses and tensions, which are not solely sexual. From a psychological and physiological perspective, it helps to generate chemicals within the brain that enhance feelings of well being. On the other hand, within the film, a member of the hotel staff arrives when the male guest is in bed and effectively stimulates the guest to ascertain how quickly they are aroused (it is not shown whether female guests receive the same treatment). Tellingly, the act of arousal is stopped at the point of erection, prior to the guest ejaculating. Ejaculation seemingly being a sinful act outside of coupledom or a waste of perfectly serviceable seed.
On a regular basis, the hotel provides social activities to allow for the single guests to become acquainted. The dance with introverted wallflowers looking on as braver people invite others to slowly rotate and move, assessing another's worth through quiet conversation as the music plays on. The hotel management singing, not so much 'Big Brother is watching you' as the hotel is doing everything it can to help you in these desperate times. The semi-regular hunts, where the guests are sent out with their tranquiliser guns to neutralise the loners who appear to be escapees from the hotel, also offer the reward of companionship and extra days as a human being if you shoot the loners.
Without giving to much more away concerning the characters, if the guests are successful in coupling, they are rewarded for their efforts and sent away to yachts for a couple of weeks to help to strengthen their relationships. If problems occur, the hotel with intervene providing children if necessary to refocus the relationship away from any problems of compatibility. This seems to be the director's and writers' rather cynical view of society and the role of families as a means of engendering conformity. If the relationships are successful, the couples are allowed to leave the hotel and go to the city. Their future as animals, fish or fowl etc frustrated.
The alternative lifestyle offered by this film is life as a loner. David leaves the hotel and ends up in the woods. The single lifestyle is just as regimented and ordered as life in the hotel. Masturbation is actively encouraged, but not relationships. If the hotel is representative of conformity through coupledom, life in the woods is about subversion through independent acts and abstinence from sexual relationships. The semi regular silent discos with the dancers showing off their moves whilst listening to portable CD players are equally as horrific as the hotel's courtship dances. Both are reinforcing ideologies of conformity. In the woods, relationships are punished, although conversation is encourages so long as it is not flirtatious.
Of course, as a love story something has to disrupt these tight and unyielding ideologies. The Short Sighted Woman (played by Rachel Weisz) provides the catalyst. After all, you can attempt to suppress individualism but you cannot always repress the urge for individual change. The Short Sighted Woman and David become attracted to one another. She requires trophies of love, rabbits that she can cook. As their love deepens, they develop a unique form of communication, requiring intricate bodily gesticulations suggesting needs and requests.
The Short Sighted Woman's eventual fate for transgressing the loners' belief systems is blinding. By removing the 'windows to the soul', your dependency upon those around you grows.
The film has an unexpected ending I refuse to give away but seeing is believing and not seeing may well allow for love to blossom (or not as the case may be).
'The Lobster' is the antidote to the myth that loves conquers all. It doesn't. It is a social construct that may or may not flourish or tarnish your life from time to time. Putting a time limit on the courtship process is no more or less insidious than pushing the notion that the only way to be happy in western civilisation is as a couple.
Unless it means something real and is not mediated through social media or online dating sites, give me solitude and singleness over vacant admiration.
Barry Watt - 1st November 2015.
'The Lobster' is a brilliant film that I could have written about for days but in writing about it, you run the risk of giving away too many plot points and characters. Hopefully, this just gives you a way in if you are interested in seeing the film. The film was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (who also directed the film 'Dogtooth', another brilliant film touching on similar themes to this film). The film has a website, if you are interested:
'Big brother is watching you' is a line borrowed by me from 'Nineteen Eighty Four' by George Orwell, as it still successfully evokes a world increasingly becoming used to being perpetually watched or else watching. The novel is published by Penguin.
'The eyes are the window of the soul' seems to have no obvious derivation, having been used by just about everyone. Still, very true. Also why some people choose to wear dark glasses I guess.