Yorgos Lanthimos is an eerie and heartwarming storyteller. Satire, among other themes, runs deep in his films, aided by a terrific script and visionary actors. Lobster (2015) is one of the most offbeat attempts at social criticism, and decidedly wonderful too.
The film begins with a shot of a moody-looking David (played by Colin Farrell), who has just learned that his wife has found someone new. Per company rules, he is moved to a hotel, where he would be allowed to spend a few days finding another suitable prospect. If he fails, the law obliges him to transform into an animal of his choice. The match recording settings are also pretty absurd: both partners can have nosebleeds, limp, or be nearsighted.
The premise of the film is quite bizarre and certainly very off-putting. However, to understand what the filmmaker is trying to say, we have to engage with the eccentricity that is imbued within it. And cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis makes it easy. Each frame is a visual treat. We watch the dystopia unfold before us, and yet we quietly let it grow. Kind of like the real thing.
During David’s stay at the hotel, he sees the hotel managers perform various presentations that prominently advocate the need for a romantic partner. The daily activities of the guests are designed to remind of the benefits of companionship and lack thereof. David walks into the hotel as clueless as he can get and gradually befriends two people: one, who is struggling to find himself a match, and another who is quite defeated at the prospect of the same (played impeccably by John C. Reilly). As is the need of the hour, David finds himself a match. He even claims to be apathetic towards people, a trait his partner possesses. However, the ripple effect of such a pretext turns his life upside down; his partner kills his dog, for no reason. Disgusted by the Kafkaesque condition of the hotel and society at large, he escapes and finds a place for himself in the nearby forest. Eventually, he is introduced to the world of “loners”, people who do what they want and go about their lives without any rules. It’s liberating at first. But soon, the true colors of this group are also exposed. Even a faint glimmer of romance or any form of human affection is truly horribly punished. One has the freedom to live alone, but with that comes the burden of loving no one at all.
The hotel and the forest are nestled in a secluded corner of the world of Lanthimos. It’s when you move to town that you understand the seriousness of the situation. Every townsman is strip searched for any clues that they are a loner, and once spotted, that person is sent to the hotel. Marriage, or the state of a loving partnership, is much more than we thought – it is compulsory and strictly policed.
It gives much-needed insight into what the movie wants to accomplish.
Finding a mate is very difficult in a world where people are obsessed with superficial traits and qualities. However, this is doubly the case today, as companies choose to capitalize on these characteristics. Everyone around us is constantly looking for a partner, and the only happy people around us seem to be those who are in a relationship. What about those who are unable to find that happiness, then? What about people like John C. Reilly’s character – someone who isn’t pretty in the conventional sense and has no intention of lying to get a match? These people perish in the world of this movie, a metaphorical parallel to how “loners” are also treated in the real world.
Despite the quirky world and its weird rules, the film’s ending exudes a great amount of romance. It shows the kind of love you would expect in a fable or an old Hollywood picture. And it serves as the boldest protest against a world that knows nothing more than to categorize people into boxes.
Disclaimer: This article was not written by the Film Companion editorial team.