“Why a lobster?”
“Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.” – David
In the world of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster you’re turned into an animal of your choice if you don’t find a mate. Most people choose dogs or at least mammals, but David’s (Colin Farrell) choice is more coldblooded and alien to humans: a lobster. His reasons are fairly logical from an organism’s point of view. The lobster has exceptional reproductive and longevity traits, but the blue-blooded part is a symbolic nod to human social status.
Most people, when faced with this situation, choose to become a dog. David’s brother made this choice, and now he’s a companion for David. Some siblings might feel like this would be all the more reason to become a dog themselves: they could just hang with their brother. In choosing to be a lobster David seems to be hoping to escape warm-blooded complications altogether. Dogs are highly emotional animals, prone to loyalty and attachments. If he became a lobster, he’d leave his brother behind.
The movie itself is rather bloodless, full of passionless people pantomiming their roles like stiff dolls suffering from an incurable loneliness. They’re fumbling towards each other not to fulfill emotional needs, but to adhere to the laws of the land. It’s an allegory for the pressure, alienation and depression can we feel when we find ourselves companionless. Coupling is not just a societal construct, it’s embedded in our DNA, in our urge to reproduce and continue our species, continue our own genes. Still for the individual being paired up and tied to another person isn’t necessary to survive. We’re told there are certain, approved-by-society narratives that our lives must follow, and when our lives veer off, we meet with real social consequences, the bulk of which comes from ourselves and how we handle small signals of rejection or disapproval. Most of the cruelty we experience comes from within. Our emotions can enhance life, but they also make it more difficult. Certain states of depression eliminate that energy-depleting emotional ride and leave us numb, which doesn’t feel right to us either. Our emotions and how they affect how we feel about ourselves and our interactions with other people can make our life seem overwhelming, but we feel utterly lost without emotion to color and stain our world.
Sometimes we just need time to heal before we re-entangle ourselves intimately with another person. Other times we can learn to navigate the world alone and have our emotional needs met in different ways that through a particular partner. Some people feel the urge to find a long-term partner more strongly than others.
How we view our expectations for relationships comes from a lens constructed by our DNA that’s dipped in filters based on how we think our community views us. This concoction results in conflicting motivations and priorities. It’s hard enough to just define our individual identity, but it gets extra complicated when we mix in sexuality, loneliness, and reflecting the self against another, very close, person in everyday life.
Other people who are paired off may seem to be flaunting their togetherness, even if they aren’t meaning to. Seeing flaws in the happy-seeming veneer of some relationships can incite a bitter schadenfreude, which is reflected when the Loners confront the couples at gunpoint, forcing to admit the deceptions in their relationship ties.
Accepted pairings in this story are based on arbitrary similarities, like nose bleeds, being near-sighted, or liking butter biscuits. No one in this movie pairs off because they like the same music or book, or because they like cooking because those similar interests would hint at real personality compliments. Instead, it’s a world washed clean of personality depth and quirks. Most people in the film are numb and unsure of who they are except, of course, the unfeeling woman. She is not unsure of herself. In fact, she so sure of herself, she’s one of the few people unwilling to fake a similar trait to secure a mate. She requires someone else to match up with her, not the other way around.
There is no freedom in The Lobster, no taste of true personality quirks. When David escapes his hotel prison he meets with another pack of humans led by Léa Seydoux operating with even more strict rules. The Loners don’t abide by any sort of interrelational connection. They stay together because they have to defend themselves against being hunted, but romance and affection are punished with cruel mutilation tailored to fit the nature of the infraction (kisses lead to razored mouths.)
The film seems to be somewhat of a comment on rigid black-and-white thinking, on us-versus-them mentality, but it’s more a dipiction than a comment. It starts off as a bit of a farce about the absurdity of dating and living up to societies expectations, but it has no ultimate conclusion about love and coupling. The second part makes it clear that not only does David want a mate, but he yearns for a more genuine connection. Still, programmed as they are towards the mentality that they have to be similar in a very specific way, even when he has genuine feelings for someone, they allow their love to be compromised when she goes from near-sighted to blind. Instead of a more logical, and perhaps romantic, conclusion where David might help his wife with tasks she can’t accomplish because she’s blind, he decides that the thing he must do is blind himself too so he can “match.”
Even in the sweet, spontaneous, and intimate connection they have is marred by the compulsion to live up to he rigid, illogical standards of their society. The movie ends on a moment of tense mystery. We see David aiming scissors at his eyes, but have no idea what he actually does. There are three options:
– he blinded himself
– he didn’t, but pretends that he did
– he didn’t, and leaves her behind
There aren’t really any clues to what he ends up doing, and all the options are harsh and unsatifying. This is not a world where people can just live their lives. There are police in shopping malls demanding marriage certificates of any single person they see. The best option seems to be that he doesn’t blind himself, but keeps up the lie that he did. Even then, there is the question as to whether he merely lies to the world, or if he lies to his partner as well. If he lets her in on the deception, they could join together as co-conspirators. If he lies to her as well, there would always be a distance between them.
Blinding himself as well would be a harsh and desperate action. It would demonstrate his devotion, not only to his love, but to keeping the rules of society. Such demands naturally lead to a type of horror, but his act viscerally demonstrates the cruelty of this world.
If he leaves, they are both in severe danger, and neither can continue living in any type of society. They are truly alone, and will be hunted down by both people from the city and the Loners. They have defied the rules of both societies they’ve been apart of, so for them the stakes of being alone is almost certainly death.
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