Comedic on surface, while inherently dark and poignant beneath, The Lobster is a charming three-way cross between comedy, romance, and horror with a deep layer of satire.
Using dry wit and occasional elements of black comedy, the film is a foreboding social commentary that pokes into a lot of themes, but one that isn’t so clear in doing so. It’s very much in the vein of French movies that lack a strong Blockbuster climax and the compliant answer to “so what was that all about?”. But that is precisely the reason there might be a chance in you enjoying the film. It’s fresh dose of modern tragicomedy.
The soundtrack is at the center of what makes this film different from others. The classical music accompanying the third person omniscient narrative voice nods to the aristocratic masque, and adds extra dollops of heavy satire by coating Rachel Weisz’s monotone narrative with the melodic sound of strings. Whenever something ominous is about to happen, there is no soundtrack to forcefully support suspense. Silence, a big part of the soundtrack, is the strategic lubricant in attempting to render a more realistic narrative. Much like how there is an absence of solemn music when your computer shuts down on an unsaved document, there will be no audible dramatization available in the movie. With the added realism, you will learn not to laugh at the idea of homo sapiens turning into mammals and crustaceans, but rather, scowl in gloom.
Picturesque in its cinematography, The Lobster offers plenty of scenes that are too good to savour it within a few seconds. Ergo the countless screenshots I took while watching it.
— I beg you not to read beyond this point. Because, spoiler. —
In the world of The Lobster, the law of nature is in full effect. There must only be couples functioning in society and if there are any singles wandering around, they are to be sent to the hotel, with widows and widowers alike being no exceptions.
There, if you fail to fall in love with someone within your stay, you are taken to the Transformation Room where you will conveniently be turned into an animal of your choice. Though it’s not exactly how you vision it. The process involves more of the painful reconfiguration done by some lunatic doctor than an ounce of fairy dust.
Casting thick British humour into the atmosphere, strong sarcasm and deadpan tone is dominant in various pockets of the movie. But the humour is only a cover-up; the film has a subdued, yet strong, sorrowful undertone.
As Colin Farrell (as David) makes his escape from the hotel, he has nowhere else to go but into the forest. There are animals in the forest – from deers and rabbits to peacocks and camels. Of course, it seems normal to see creatures like rabbits hopping about in the forest. However observing a camel in your forest is perhaps not your average forest scenery. Upon seeing the camel, you will instantly realize those stray animals were once human beings, albeit single ones.
On different note, the forest holds a more promising prospect: there is a bandit of singles, or loners as they are called, that wish to be singles ’till death (they also organize non-violent acts of terrorism against the hotelier, proving to her that her husband does not love her). The only caveat is that any display or expression of affection is met with grisly punishment. The loners, residing with the animals (also singles before they turned into beasts), are hunted by participants from the hotel, who are given tranquilizer rifles. It’s a ludicrous version of how singles don’t like to be around couples and hence try to flee scenes of PDA or EDA (excessive display of affection).
To put it bluntly, we are presented with two binary extremes of love. Love for the other versus love for the self. Leading us to cradle our heads between our palms and wonder.
Are we brutish animals that indulge in the restriction of something so innately natural? Or, are we animals for the reason that we are habitually governed by instinct more so than reason?
Not once in the film, are we shown couples that have met in the hotel, who are ideal partners for each other. The film also turns a blind eye to the absence of happily-ever-after relationships. The dilemma ultimately shown by Lanthimos is that while marriage can be restrictive, being single can be equally problematic. As shown by the animal motif, being single is not so natural – like animals, we are constantly looking for a partner.
Is the film then, a facetious critique of what’s happening today around the globe in so many developed countries? Or, are we being censured for being too picky these days, often demanding too many things from our partners?
We are like the hotelier who warns Farrell:
…you must be careful. You need to choose a companion that is of similar type animal to you. A wolf and a penguin can never live together, nor could a camel and a hippopotamus. That would be absurd.
What she says echoes our latent expectation to marry someone not too far from our ethnic, racial, and socio-economic boundaries.
Then the hotelier queries whether Farrell has thought of what he would be, in the case he fails to find a soulmate.
Yes, a lobster. Because lobsters live for over hundred years, are blue blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives.
Just let that sink in.