Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos is an artist obsessed with the perception of identity. From the bizarre maturation rules and language conceit of Dogtooth to the sad and satirical impersonation of the recently deceased in Alps, Lanthimos deals with the deconstruction of societal standards through the lack of individuality in scripted everyday interactions. The Lobster is perhaps his most accessible work to date. Written with Efthymis Fillippou, The Lobster concerns a dystopian society obsessed with love. Adult citizens of The City must be in a committed, true-love marriage with a heterosexual or homosexual partner. Once single, citizens are sent to The Hotel. There they have 45 days to find a perfect match or they are transformed into a wild animal of their choice and released into The Woods.
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are the central figures of the story. Farrell is David, a recently divorced man who checks into The Hotel with a dog, Bob, formerly his brother. David’s wife left him after realizing she was no longer in love with him and chooses to try to find a better match in the hotel. Only Bob and David are named in the entirety of the film.
Rachel Weisz is an unnamed narrator whose role in the film is one of safety and accessibility. Her terse, simple narrations—sometimes a transitional device, sometimes an Absurdist effect of repeating dialogue or reciting dialogue yet to be heard—create distance from a world that is upsetting on its best days. She also clears up some of the bizarre rules and connections in the narrative.
For example, we witness the nightly Hunt before anyone explains what the rules are. Society cannot exist unless everyone buys into the arbitrary rules of society. Therefore, residents at The Hotel are given the opportunity to extend their stay indefinitely. If they successfully hunt down and tranquilize outsiders who do not have partners and live in The Woods, they earn an extra day at The Hotel to find true love. Those outsiders are not as lucky, as they do not become guests of The Hotel when they are captured. Weisz’ narrator is the first and only person to truly address what happens in these crazed action sequences often broken up with crude and ineffective courting attempts.
The characters in The Lobster who do not have a perfect mate are not incapable of making a connection; they are incapable of presenting the appropriate level of artifice to fit into society. Some are widowers; others, divorcees. They are only undesirable because they cannot keep up with the rules set out by The City and The Hotel.
Ben Whishaw’s character, the limping man, is the perfect example. The Hotel demands that true love be defined not just by emotional, romantic, or intellectual notions, but by sharing a defining characteristic. The limping man has to find a similarly injured partner or else he will fail the levels of relationships set out by the hotel. His desperation is evident when dismissing a potential lover in the film. The woman has a limp, but only because she injured her ankle before arriving at The Hotel; that relationship cannot last under this society’s rules. It’s a non-starter. The limping man cannot even waste time considering her as an option.
Once a suitable partner is found, the clock stops ticking. The couple is presented to all the guests in a lavish ceremony and gifted a two week stay in a double hotel room, complete with double bed and twice as much of every item. If they successfully complete the two week stay in the hotel, they are moved into a private yacht for another two weeks. Only if they complete this test are they allowed to marry and reenter The City.
The rules of society only become more bizarre from this centralized concept. The Lobster is a film about people failing to make a meaningful connection in life. More than that, Lanthimos and Filippou are concerned with the pressure society places on all of us to find what society defines as a meaningful connection in life. Those who fail to marry are treated poorly, and only outmatched in disdain by those who fail at marriage. Our existence should not be defined by our ability to attract a mate, but by what we choose to do with our lives.
David is a kind person. He takes in his brother Bob even after Bob is deemed unwanted by society. Most of the people who choose to become dogs are left for dead in The Woods. Bob is not allowed outside of David’s room, and David protects Bob from people who believe they can use a shared affection for dogs to snag a perfect mate.
`David is not so much interested in finding a mate as he is interested in being able to protect his brother and himself from the harsh conditions of The Woods. Animals and humans alike are hunted there. It is the last refuge, the last chance at salvation or solitude in a world obsessed with partnership. It is an existence wrought with peril. Even though David is not yet ready to find a new mate after losing his wife, he knows that not finding a mate leads to a fate worse than death.
The transformation element of The Lobster is described not as a punishment, but a gift. Wild animals do not struggle to find a mate. The ultimate goal of all animals, humans included, is to find that perfect match. Just by choosing your own animal, you have one last chance to find a perfect mate. A dog will instinctively mate with a dog, and two dogs will be guaranteed as good partners. A dog in the wild will not, however, mate with a lobster.
The confusion created by so many different interests, defining traits, and personalities in humans is rendered moot when transformed into an animal of your choice. Someone who wants to be a lobster will gravitate to someone else who wants to be a lobster, but that distinction might not be clear in human form. It’s far easier for a lobster to find another lobster in the wild than a woman with a beautiful smile to find someone with a similarly beautiful smile among the humans.
The Lobster’s ruminations on partnership, compatibility, and social conformity only grow more twisted and dark as the story progresses. All aspects of society are explored, save for the actual transformation into an animal; that is a dark secret that no one wants to know. The only fate worse than loneliness in this universe is losing your agency as a human being. That agency is the spark of rebellion, the drive to find a perfect mate, and the willingness to conform to this bizarre society even if that conformity is harmful to yourself. The thing that makes us the most human is what traps us all in this dystopian future defined by a desire to remain human no matter what.