The Lobster’s Heartbreak
Jun 13, 2016 by Marketing on The Nickelodeon Blog
When David first enters the Hotel where he will have 45 days to find a partner, he is asked for his shoe size. He replies in a half size, and is told he must choose a whole size. Throughout Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Lobster, nothing is in between. In this surrealistic take down of society’s obsession with neatly quantifying and boxing up people like products on a shelf, the characters are constantly forced to deny the many and complex shades that define the human experience. Find a mate, or be turned into an animal. Follow the rules, or be brutally punished. Give in to the Noah’s Ark world of the City and the Hotel, or join the equally cruel and dogmatic tribe of Loners swearing off romance on pain of torture.
Equally disturbing as these choices are however is how steadfastly the characters of the movie follow the rules of this world. One could theorize that they must do so to survive—that this in fact is the very reason why they are so emotionless and apathetic. Perhaps that would explain why the first and possibly only true kind act in the movie comes when the Nearsighted woman rescues David from being tranquilized by the Lisping Man. Following the rules of either the Hotel/The City or the rules of The Loners are the only paths to survival. Yet as the movie progress, it becomes apparent that the characters fundamentally agree with the rules, inhibiting them from ever breaking free.
The most apparent example of this comes in the “defining characteristic” acting as the vital point of connection between two people. They are reduced to a superficial feature that someone else must share with them to be a pair. However, these are not rules simply imposed by the Hotel, as we see when David falls in love with the near-sighted woman. Like a middle-schooler justifying that he/she is destined to be with his/her crush because they both like the same band, or the same logic fueling the algorithms of dating apps, so function the characters. When David finds out that the nearsighted woman wears contact lenses, just as he wears glasses, he permits himself to love her. Over the course of their time together, the two seem to develop a genuine affection for each other and fall into passionate love. However, once the Nearsighted Woman is blinded, we see David’s resolve falter. In a devastating scene the audience watches the Nearsighted Woman fill with pain and fear when she must tell David, asking him not to be angry with her for something that wasn’t her fault. We see him begin to desert and abandon her when she needs him most, and when he does come back, his plan for them to be together hinges upon him blinding himself so they will have “something in common”. Just as loving, caring, and respecting each other is not enough for the dystopian universe they live in; ultimately it is not enough for them either.
As the credits clip by at the end of the film, an old Greek song laments, “What is this thing called love, what is it?” It suggests there is something boundless and enigmatic about love, something free. But The Lobster presents us with a world without freedom, prodding us to wonder how free we allow ourselves to be, let alone our society. The characters make choices that aren’t really their choice, just as we do. We go into a store and grab the product that best fits our needs or wants, just as the characters choose the path that best fits their needs: death, marriage, loneliness, animal. The hotel staff demonstrates the benefits of marriage by showing a woman inevitably being raped if a man does not accompany her. We live in a society that continues to punish women for being assaulted, and finds little to nothing abnormal about a man who commits the atrocity. The characters cannot access the most vulnerable of emotions: love, and instead focus on differences no matter how small. We find any excuse not to relate to those around us, to only surround ourselves by the familiar and similar.
At its start, The Lobster presents being turned into an animal as the biggest threat. But by the end, it’s much scarier to never have been human to begin with.