Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has a knack for creating films that are both deeply disturbing and riotously funny. While I found Dogtooth to be distressing to the point of hating it, Alps is one of the funniest films of the past five years, a bone-dry comedy about a disturbing service. The Lobster is a worthy followup that focuses on the perils of modern romance.
Love is a strange beast. Timed and shy and yet bold and fiery. And yet, lasting love does not always meet some people. In the world of The Lobster, love is mandatory. Singles are sent to a hotel where they must find a partner or be turned into an animal of their choosing after 45 days. David (Colin Farrell) is a new resident caught up in this strange, twisted world.
As might be expected in such an environment, love is about the last thing that is happening here. This use of outside force to foster love instead breeds a big misconception that love is simply about sharing a similar trait or interest. For example, one of David’s friends fakes nosebleeding so he can be partnered with a woman who actually gets nosebleeds all the time. It’s a talking point at first that only turns into a similar shared quirk.
While certainly an exaggeration, this world is a fantastic commentary on modern society’s desire to see young singles get married. Blind dates, dating apps, and even retreats built around meeting a partner are flashed all over the place at singles. The percentage of single people in the world is only growing and instead of addressing underlying causes, external pressure added to the situation that only makes things worse.
For instance, in one of the perversely funny scenes in the film, the maid grinds on David to the point of frustration before leaving him crashing down from the desire. And he knows full well that masturbation is forbidden. It’s a passionless attempt to push his sex drive into overdrive so he will find a mate.
Likewise, the film has these hilariously dry moral plays that the staff performs in front of the residents about the perils of being single. For instance, a woman could be assaulted if she walks alone, or a man might choke to death if he eats alone. These exaggerated events are yet another societal tool that focuses on singleness as an undesirable state. Marriage is the idea, anything less is seen as foolish.
If there’s any weakness in the film, it’s that the world-building has to be accepted at face value. There’s no explanation as to why people must turn into animals if they don’t find mates. Also, the residents are sent to hunt down the former resident escapees and bring them in to be turned into animals. Why professional hunters aren’t given the job is unclear. It’s also confusing why the former residents don’t move off to some other woods away from the hotel.
For those who can accept the oddities, The Lobster is a dark and humorous look at the modern world of relationships where being single is akin to being a lobster. The world often makes singleness a harsh state of being and makes finding a partner a lot more stressful and constraining than it needs to be. In an age of singleness, The Lobster hits on so much of the problems facing the youths of today.
If I had to choose, I’d probably turn into a dog. Not the best of lifespans, but dogs seem to be just about the happiest animals you can imagine.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing