The Lobster (2015)

Poster for the film, The Lobster (2015).

Are we Lobster?

Although The Lobster is not an enjoyable film per se (there are some very funny moments, but it’s also quite brutal), it’s a film that makes an indelible impression, especially because what seemed like a ludicrous premise in 2015, when the film was released, turned out to be prescient. The film depicts a dystopian society in which loners are criminalized and sent to “the hotel,” an institutional setting in which they are rehabilitated or discarded.

Like all good satire, the film’s power lies in its capacity to reveal that the absurdity it depicts is not far removed from our reality. Take, for example, a scene in the city where police are arresting someone for violating an ordinance against walking alone. Absurd, right? But compare that to recent laws passed in New York and California that allow police to remove from public spaces any person who is perceived as mentally ill, or policy guidelines drafted by the Department of Homeland Security that flag loners as potential mass shooters and terrorists. Many of the characters in the hotel are neurodivergent and struggle with human connection, including David (the protagonist, played by Colin Farrell), who speaks in a monotone, as well as “Nosebleed Woman” who tends to infodump. The “treatments” that they are forced to endure resemble many practices in modern psychiatry.

All of these absurd aspects of the film make “The Lobster” a clawing commentary on the way our society treats marginalized people, although the director, Yorgos Lanthimos, primarily intended the film to be a dark comedy about the desperate measures that people will take to find a romantic partner and the superficial forms of connection that entails. Indeed, guests in the hotel are given forty days to find a partner, or they are transformed into a non-human animal. This ultimatum drives one of the men in the hotel, played by Ben Whishaw, to break his nose in an attempt to find a connection with Nosebleed Woman. Being turned into a non-human animal is an ironic choice of punishment given that mating is one of the basest of animal drives, but it’s also an adequate metaphor of the way marginalized others are dehumanized.

As a satire on society’s criminalization of loneliness, the film is almost perfect up until the second act when the protagonist escapes from the hotel. In the woods, he stumbles upon a “collective” of militant loners, a plot element that the director admittedly tacked on to the story in order to give it balance. But Lanthimos’ argument of equivalence between the coercive power of the state and the collective feels contrived and unconvincing. Here, the story morphs from an insightful, character-driven satire to a plot-driven parody of its premise. The paradoxical notion of a “collective” of loners, organized and apparently well-connected to the underground elements of society, is almost an untenable contradiction in the film unless we are to understand that it’s not so much the struggle of community that Lanthimos is critiquing, but romantic attachment. This development undermines the first half of the film, rendering its astute observations on loneliness and the fragility of human connection as an almost dreamlike state from which the protagonist has awoken, and thus it escapes a proper reckoning in the film.

Ebert: not rated
My rating: 7/10