Arts & Style

Entrancingly strange comedy takes on love in dystopian society

It is drab. It is awkward. It is procedural. It is difficult to watch. It is love, as depicted by The Lobster. The film takes place in a dystopian world where the most important thing to worry about is relationship status.

In The Lobster, the unmarried have 45 days to find a mate or else become transformed into an animal of their choice.
In The Lobster, the unmarried have 45 days to find a mate or else become transformed into an animal of their choice.

David, played by Colin Farrell, and the only character who is named, is introduced as his wife chooses to leave him for another man. David is sent to a hotel where he is required to find a romantic partner before time runs out, or else he will be turned into the animal of his choice. His preferred animal gives the film its title.

Shot mostly with natural lighting, the film has a color palette of blues and grays. Within the hotel, guests are dressed in exactly the same clothing. People find one another because of a defining characteristic, whether it be a limp, chronic nosebleeds or nearsightedness. Romantic propositions are made matter-of-factly, as if a potential relationship were a business dealing to be transacted.

The dialogue tends to be structured like that of children’s literature in its simplistic yet elongated sentence structure. The hotel manager, played by Olivia Colman, tells recently coupled guests, “If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children; that usually helps.” At the hotel shooting range, David and his friends are told, “It’s no coincidence that the targets are shaped like single people and not couples.” The world of the film is demented at its core.

On David’s first day, he and the other guests go out on a hunt, shooting loners who have escaped the hotel with tranquilizer darts. Capturing one loner gives the guests credit for an extra day in the hotel. While seeing John C. Reilly stumble through a thicket in slow motion is one of the comedic highlights of the movie, the subsequent shots of Angeliki Papoulia’s character Heartless Woman mercilessly beating a captured loner are unsettling. It is clear that she uses her extra days to heartlessly attack as many loners as possible; on David’s first night, she has 154 days remaining at the hotel. All newcomers start with 45 days.

This film is a comedy at which it is nearly impossible to laugh out loud. Some moments are funny in the subtle way Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel evokes humor from a head peeking around a corner or an elongated pause. At other times, it is the tragicomedy that comes from someone crying out in pain loudly in a camera shot where they lie isolated on the ground. It is hard to know whether to smile slightly, to grimace or to turn the movie off straightaway.

The Lobster relishes in causing discomfort. It feels masochistic to sit through certain scenes. The camera holds for too long, the scene continues past being bearable and everyone ignores the pain others are going through. A knife, a toaster and a table are all elements of this off-putting journey through an uncaring world.

Despite all this, the film itself stands out as a piece which is quite good. It is wonderful to see original storytelling, to see Ben Whishaw’s skills outside of James Bond, to have a dystopia which is not from a best-selling Young Adult series. Though it probably will not be seen by a majority of film-goers, The Lobster was able to make back its budget plus a few million dollars, which will hopefully encourage further original filmmaking, even if it is limited to foreign releases and independent theaters.

Dystopias have the ability to emphasize negative traits of the real world. George Orwell’s 1984 is a regular reference in regard to government surveillance. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, indicates the problems in modern media and reality TV.

The Lobster tells of a mistaken approach to love. Characters lie about who they are to try and create a relationship. They contrive characteristics to match those of others. It is reminiscent of a quote from the film Submarine, “I must not let my principles stand in the way of progress.” The film introduces two sides to the concept of companionship. There is that of the hotel and the world at large, requiring all people to be paired up, while there is the group of loners living in the forest, who forbid relationships and even flirting. Both groups dole out brutal punishments to those who disobey, bringing about some of the most cringe-worthy scenes in the film.

The opposite extremes are able to show clearly what is wrong with limiting oneself to one end or the other of a spectrum. One of the film’s main arguments is for tolerance and moderation.

With all the marketing campaigns for Warcraft, the next Purge movie, the Ghostbusters reboot, Finding Dory and so many other sequels, reboots and rehashes that the summer has to offer, The Lobster serves as a humble and well-formed counterbalance. It gives a fresh look at life and love through an original story and a brand new world. This is not something that has been seen too many times. It is not an attempt by a company to cash in on a marketable property. The Lobster is quite simply a piece of art, making sense of the world a little bit more. It is uncomfortable to sit through at points, but for its purpose, that is just fine.

Benjamin Wallin

Benjamin Wallin

Benjamin Wallin is a film critic and a creative writer. His aim is to contextualize works in a way that makes them accessible to the newcomers and insightful for the experienced. His favorite film is The Grand Budapest Hotel and he would love to talk to you about yours.
Benjamin Wallin
June 13, 2016

About Author

Benjamin Wallin Benjamin Wallin is a film critic and a creative writer. His aim is to contextualize works in a way that makes them accessible to the newcomers and insightful for the experienced. His favorite film is The Grand Budapest Hotel and he would love to talk to you about yours.


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