Similar to Yorgos Lanthimos’s prior films Dogtooth and Alps, his English language debut, The Lobster, is an enigma and resists predictability at all points. At times this is to provoke a response from audiences, countering sterility with expressive violence, but at other times this is to comic effect since Lanthimos’s films are dark satires. He caricatures the world, but only to a limited degree so that we continue to find some familiarity in his created setting.
The Lobster is set in the near-future and is dystopian- it shares a number of qualities with Orwell’s 1984. David (Colin Farrell) is a man whose wife recently left him for another man. By law, he registers at the Hotel, a grandiose rehabilitation center of sorts where its inhabitants are given forty-five days to find a lover or else be turned into an animal of their choice and released in the forest. If one does find a lover, they are moved into the couples section of the Hotel and begin a month-long trial of partnership. If they remain a couple after this time, they return to the City.
The inhabitants of the hotel wake, dine, and participate in activities at the same time. Men all wear one outfit; women, another. They are shown presentations by the hotel staff that extol the benefits of being in a relationship. Each evening, they hunt for Loners, individuals who have escaped from the Hotel and live in the forest. They are given tranquilizer guns to shoot the Loners and for each Loner captured, they are given an additional day of time to find a lover.
Everything is black-and-white in The Lobster*. The Loners are the polar opposite of those in the Hotel: they are celibate and are punished deeply if exhibiting any sign, even flirtation, of affection towards another. Despite their lifestyle, the Loners are the more able of the two populations to interact socially. The Hotel inhabitants are provided stiff, Bergman-esque dialogue by Lanthimos. They don’t know how to talk to others or communicate, never mind truly fall in love. Each person describes a “defining characteristic” of theirs when introducing themselves to the other inhabitants of the hotel, and it is this defining characteristic that often prompts two to announce themselves as a couple. There is a Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), there is a Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) – they are not given names.
It might seem that The Lobster critiques dating practices and behaviors specific to our time. Yet with universal themes of love, individuality, and communication, the film is rooted deeply in the human condition rather than explicitly contemporary culture. The Lobster is a film that will remain relevant in the years to come, just as 1984 or any other lasting work of art.
* Take note of the mention of bisexuality when David registers at the hotel and when he is questioned about shoe size.