The Lobster [2015]

This is a critic-friendly film, and I imagine generations of English and Film students as yet unborn being tasked with picking it apart scene by scene or even line by line as a master-class on satire and deconstruction. It has been exquisitely carefully designed, and layered in ambiguities that affect but do not destroy the simple human urges which drive the narrative and inhabiting characters. Stated in its simplest form, a film as emotionally repressed as this one could only exist if driven by the most powerful emotions and to that extent it is a paradox. I sense that this is a film, like Lost in Translation, that I’m going to waste endless hours defending to people who bounced off the surface hardness of the film and so were unable to access the deeper content. The film in a lot of ways reflects its eponymous animal; though having said that, I hate lobster, and I think, but only suspect, that I liked this film. Alas, there is nothing useful to say about this film without spoilers, so continue with due notice.

The central design principle of the film is that within the fictional world love is about finding someone with a matching distinctive trait – if you have a limp, you look for someone with a limp. The struggle faced by the characters is that this is just as problematic as it sounds, because if you find yourself without someone to love and are faced with the only alternative being death, what’re you to do but fake it? But… once you accept that essential premise, when you do find a suitably matching distinctive trait, what’s to say that your pairing is anything other than a convenience? Love in this whole paradigm is impossible because it is a false choice. This is a satire attacking that very human impulse to find a mate who’s in some senses similar to ourselves, something that becomes more and more important the more prominent a defining characteristic is. What it also argues is that the more prominent the trait, the easier it is to fake it, so that when the “Limping Man” [Ben Wishaw] decides to court the “Nosebleed Woman” [Jessica Barden] is is a trivial matter to arrange. David [Colin Farrell] decides he’s going to partner up with “the most heartless woman” [Angelika Papoulia], but opportunities to demonstrate a complete lack of emotion are harder to fabricate and the lie more difficult to maintain. Lanthimos emphasises this determinative quality by eschewing names for most of his characters – in the credits, they are listed by description, even when a name has been mentioned during the drama.

In the first half of the film this complex metaphor plays out with an increasing pathos and tragedy until in the second half things get so much worse as David, the Lobster, finally does meet someone with whom he forms a genuine human connection, played by Rachel Weisz. To me it seemed like their connection was fairly natural and spontaneous, and the romance such as it was appears fairly well advanced before they both recognise that the trait they share is short sightedness. The rules of society proper require people to be in relationships, but once outside society proper the accumulation of loners requires just the opposite, that all human interaction be at the most superficial level and not even superficially gesture toward romantic or other entanglement. In an early scene the group of individuals leaves one of their number to die because he is unable to help himself – they even discuss his impending death with him. Once David falls in love with “the shortsighted woman” the film slides inexorably toward the tragedy of their discovery, and the haunting decision that in order to be together they must share a defining characteristic – blindness. The last 5 minutes of the film was so tense I couldn’t watch, and looking around the theatre I wasn’t the only one.

The film makes absolutely no attempt to explain why society must be like this, and it concentrates its focus on a small handful of characters. That likewise focuses the satire on the behaviour of individuals, and how individuals cope with relationships (or not). The key thing remains the centrality of the shared defining characteristic – it is easier for The Lobster to imagine blinding himself than continuing to love a blind person while remaining sighted. That’s absolutely crazy, but it makes a twisted kind of sense inside the fictional world created by the film. To me, the film seemed to be arguing that human relationships are inherently a matter of proximity and convenience – that there is no deeper connection available than simply sharing a key trait.

Usually I try to pull out a deeper meaning and a deeper interpretation of a film. Having spent an unusually long period sitting in front of my computer trying to comprehend this work, it’s shear unusualness has forced me to provide what is basically a plot summary rather than analysis. The film is absolutely full of intriguing little moments – why does the Loner Leader blind the Shortsighted Woman rather than simply let her and the Lobster leave the anti-commune? What is so painful to her about others’ happiness, and why does she murder her accomplice in the blinding – it makes no sense in logical terms. There is a deeper symbolic logic being used to structure these events that I can only glimpse. I think this is a film I’ll need to watch again to make more progress with; like the Drummers from The Diamond Age, this has haunted me without providing me with answers or insights.

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