I first saw a trailer for The Lobster around this time last year, but I was unable to figure out where or when it was being shown in theaters near me. I searched and searched, but figured that I had either missed its showings at smaller theaters or that it simply was on too-limited release and I’d have to wait for it to show up on a streaming service or something. The premise seemed interesting: A sad Colin Farrell and other singles have a limited amount of time to find true love. If they fail, they will be turned into the animal of their choice. (Farrell’s character, David, chooses the film’s eponymous lobster because it lives for over a hundred years, is blue-blooded like an aristocrat, is fertile throughout its entire life, and lives in the sea, as he has always loved waterskiing and swimming.)
Let me first say that I was cracking up for nearly the whole movie. It’s not stupid, crass look-at-how-funny-I-am kind of comedy. In the universe of this movie, the people clearly have no social skills. This results in some really hilarious conversations and exchanges. The awkward, stilted dialogue makes you feel so uncomfortable and you’re cringing so much and you just have no other response but laughter.
We dance alone. That’s why we only play electronic music.
The physical humor was great. The comedic timing was excellent. Usually, when I see movies that are labelled “dark comedies”, I find them kinda funny-ish sometimes I guess. But I was stifling laughter and trying not to annoy the couple sitting in front of me with my giggles. This movie is really funny.
At the same time, it’s a “dark” comedy for a reason, and that is because, well, the assumptions and rules of this world are a bit morbid. People come to this hotel when they become single, and are given 45 days to find love or be turned into animals. (Which they choose at the beginning of the stay.) Those who try to escape this fate live in the woods and are hunted by the residents of the hotel. For every Loner that a resident captures (they use tranquilizer guns to hunt, don’t worry), their stay at the hotel is extended by one day. On David’s first day, his left hand is handcuffed to the back of his pants so that he can really appreciate how much easier life is when you are part of a pair and not alone. During an assembly, hotel staff show humorously straight-faced demonstrations of what happens when you are alone (you choke on your food and die, you get sexually assaulted while walking) and when you are part of a couple (your partner saves your life, your partner wards off would-be assailants). Masturbation is punished, as it is an example of self-pleasure, and we see that the punishment is having your hand placed in a hot toaster! (OUCH) Every day, the residents are brought to arousal, likely as a means of motivation to finding their partner. (This scene was one of the funniest in the entire movie, and you have to wonder how they do this for women. A scene later maybe sheds some light on this.) Residents are only permitted to do solo things, like play golf, and are not allowed to do group/team/pairs activities like tennis. The rules are harsh and strictly enforced, and it is all meant to make people want to be paired up more.
I was confused by these rules a little bit. For example, is it compulsory to check into the hotel after your relationship ends? It seems like everyone is here after their spouses leave them some way or another. What about the two very young girls who are best friends and at the hotel at the same time? How did that work out, exactly? Were they originally in a romantic relationship with each other, maybe? Is it legally required to check in after your relationship ends, perhaps? There is a scene where David and our narrator, Rachel Weisz, are in the city and David is very nervous when a cop approaches him and asks about his partner. Are people not allowed to be single, by law? Or, are they so desperate to be in a relationship, either because of their own insecurities or because it affords them better opportunities in this world, that they voluntarily go all-in to find love in this hotel. Are there a lot more hotels like this? Is this one of many? Is it a chain, do these hotels compete? How are they even funded, do the people pay to stay there?
This movie, in all its ridiculousness, says so much about what we look for in relationships and how wrong we can be. Every resident of the hotel introduced themselves very matter-of-factly and mentioned a defining characteristic. The implication throughout the movie is that couples had one big thing in common, for example: both have a limp, both are short-sighted (near-sighted, but read into the double entendre there how you will), both get frequent nosebleeds. This was so telling because people were willing to fake what they had in common with a potential partner in order to find love and leave the hotel. It reminded me a lot of how online dating works today, and how we put these fairly superficial traits on our profiles and look for people who have the same ones. When your criteria for messaging someone is “Oh, her favorite band is Muse, too!”, you have to wonder if that’s really the best way to find love. At the same time, when you only have a limited amount of time – like, say, 45 days before being permanently turned into an animal – what else are you meant to go on to determine who out of the hundreds of thousands of millions of people out there is worth your time in trying to forge a relationship with? For the people in the hotel, did they have much time to learn more about each other without some entry point of “Hey! I speak German too!” to start the relationship off?
Another thing I noticed (before we head into spoiler territory) is the movie nails how intolerant our world can be of grey areas. David is frequently forced to choose absolutes when he wants to live in the in-betweens. When he checks into the hotel (as we see in the trailer), he is asked his sexual preference and indicates that he prefers women… but he did have one homosexual experience in school. “Is there a bisexual option?” “No, I’m afraid we no longer offer bisexual preference. I’m afraid you have to decide right now whether to register as a heterosexual or homosexual.” And he hesitates for a long time. It is one of the only times we see a very deliberate, er, deliberation in this hotel where you are choosing who you will spend your life with. If he chooses one over the other, he cannot ever experience the other ever again. “I think I should be registered as a heterosexual”, he finally decides. We see this again after he exchanges all of his belongings for the clothes provided by the hotel. (I kind of liked that the hotel made everyone conform in this way. You would not be influenced by someone’s style; just who they were. Or that one thing you have in common. At the same time, though, maybe someone’s style is a big part of who they are and you’ll never know until you leave the hotel with them.) When asked for his shoe size, David replies that he is a 44.5. “44 or 45? We do not have half-sizes.” Again, we see him hesitate for a brief moment before he resigns himself to wearing a size 45.
Oh man, I went into this movie expecting to roll my eyes at lot at some auteur piece with humor that I didn’t get and wasted stars (like some directors do to me) but I really loved The Lobster. If you are able to catch it in theaters, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you do. It’s a pretty beautiful movie as well, and I was engaged and enjoyed the movie throughout, until the end… which was when I felt really uncomfortable but not in a bad way.
More analysis and review in the spoilers after the trailer!
P.S. You can choose what animal you would be in the movie with this fun quiz. Here are the choices I was given and I think they are pretty great:
All right, I need to talk about the ending before I talk about anything else, because it merits maybe the most discussion. Rachel Weisz’s character has been blinded by the Loner Leader, played by Léa Seydoux. Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell had been carrying on a secret affair, because the ONLY rule with the Loners is that they may not engage in any romantic or sexual activity with each other. (aka the opposite of the rules in the hotel.) David and our narrator run away so that they can be together, even though they no longer have short-sightedness in common. David even tries to find any single other thing that is not his defining characteristic that they might have in common and is unable to come up with anything.
In order to protect this relationship that they have already given up so much for, he decides that he will blind himself so that he can still be with our narrator. (I realized this when he asked her to show him her face from all angles, her elbows, her hands… and it was confirmed for me when he asked for a fork and knife. That was the point in which I started covering my eyes and my friends were like “what is happening” while I cringed in anticipation.) The last scenes of the movie (which I watched through my fingers) show him holding a knife to his eye and struggling to go through with what he has agreed to do, and our narrator waiting… waiting… waiting…
You have to wonder if he actually went through with it or not. Is he really willing to give up his eyesight for love? Is it even love if you have to give up your eyesight for it? Will she even know if he isn’t truly blind, or can he get away with lying. But then will his relationship be based on a lie, which we have already seen to lead to disastrous results? Perhaps he realized that what they can have in common is their love for each other, and in fact, that was the original commonality that they had? Or was the original commonality they shared that they were having an illicit affair with each other, and legitimizing it would ultimately be what ended their relationship? Is he simply going to run away and leave her at this restaurant upon realizing this? Or is he going to do what he said and be blind with her for the rest of their lives? My friends and I were so wrapped up with this open-ended conclusion that we immediately went to get bubble tea and discuss, despite it already being almost 11PM.
I thought it was really appropriate, and it tied back to David and his inability to fit into grey areas. His decision required him to choose an absolute: be blind or don’t be blind, be with her or don’t be with her. And he seems to think that he also has to decide on the absolute that is What will keep us together? And what he doesn’t realize is that this is one thing that he doesn’t need an absolute for. Real love is not determined by these arbitrary absolutes like both people needing to have their vision corrected. But in this world that is rule by absolutes, he must make a choice.
We were also interested in knowing more about how the Loners and their leader worked. Why live in the woods right next to the hotel, especially if you know that you will be hunted? (This brought us back to the question of it, perhaps, being illegal to be single.) Perhaps the Leader imposed the very strict no-coupling-up rule because she was afraid she would be left alone, truly alone, instead of being part of a family of Loners. She didn’t want to watch people couple up and leave her, reminding her that other people could find love and she could not. Some people seem to think that maybe she was in love with the French maid at the hotel, or even with our narrator, but for some reason could not act on that. Maybe that’s because she is now in charge of this Loner pack and has to be steadfast in her single life. Maybe this is the only way she feels in control of who she is and her being single, is if she is also in control of other people’s survival and being single.
Also left to wonder is why they set out to sabotage these relationships. At first, we are led to think that the Loners are going to kill couples, which is why David volunteers to go to his friend, John, played by Ben Whishaw, rather than allow another member of the pack to go. But the leader gives the hotel manager’s husband a fake gun that he was willing to fire at his wife, and everyone leaves these relationships to fall apart. Did they want more people to join them? When David joins them after the catastrophic dissolution of his relationship with a heartless woman, the Leader asks if he is a doctor because they need one. Were any of the people in these couples a doctor, maybe? Did they just need more numbers? Did they thrive on the chaos? Did they not believe in relationships at all, and fall on the other end of the spectrum in believing that people are happier alone and should not be in relationships at all? We don’t know for sure. It could be all of none of these things.
I haven’t been this excited to critically think about a movie in a long time, since Birdman, probably! I’d love to see it again, and if you want to discuss with me after seeing it, please let me know! I want some of my questions answered, but for once, I will not be unhappy if they are not answered.