The Lobster: Get Comfortable, by Tyler Smith
Yorgos Lanthimos’ brilliant dark comedy The Lobster is a perfect blend of twisted humor, cold science fiction, and heartbreaking drama. He creates a world so completely different from our own that we know from the very first scene that the next two hours are going to be disorienting and unnerving. And yet underneath it all is an understanding of human longing and the need for connection; a need so often misinterpreted that it can lead to misery rather than fulfillment. It is a splendid film that made me laugh, cringe, and tear up, often in the same scene.
When we think of movies that take place in a dystopian future, we picture battle-ravaged cities and oppressive governments. We imagine brutal armies keeping the innocents from expressing anything other than the official party line. The future world of The Lobster doesn’t immediately appear to be as soul-crushing as other films like Blade Runner, RoboCop, or The Hunger Games. Rather than a cold, cruel world drained of all color, this place is peaceful and relaxing. Everything is calm and controlled; things really don’t seem so bad.
But then the twisted absurdity of this world reveals itself. In this world, people are required to be a part of a romantic couple. If a person suddenly finds himself single – due to death or divorce – he is shipped off to a posh hotel, where he has forty-five days to pair up with another single person and fall madly in love. If he cannot achieve this, he is physically turned into an animal of his own choice.
Our main character, David (Colin Farrell), is brought to the hotel shortly after his wife leaves him. He is initially numb to all of the proceedings, but, like everybody else, soon tries to find love, with sad and hilarious results. It is in these attempts that the fullness of the rules of this dystopian future slowly come into focus. Rather than simply find a person that they can genuinely connect with, these characters seem to be required to find a common trait (as superficial as a limp or as deep as emotional indifference) in order to pair off with another. Once they pair off, there is a ceremony in which they undergo a trial period. After a certain point, they can be assigned children to take care of. Everything about these relationships is managed, lest the true messiness of human connection come through.
This more than anything is what stayed with me. Early on, a sad young man (Ben Whishaw) arrives at the hotel, announcing that his wife died six days earlier. This is a jarring admission and we immediately feel for this character. His vulnerability is on full display. But, like everybody else, he still has the allotted forty-five days to find a new mate. No time for sadness, no time for grief. Just as long as he’s paired off, everything will be fine.
In this way, the world of The Lobster is only a slightly-exaggerated version of our own. We have a definite idea of what “normal” is – married, a good job, a nice house, children – and will try desperately to fit that mold. And if somebody else doesn’t seem to fit, it can be unsettling. If somebody has lost a spouse, or is going through a divorce, it can throw off the comfort that the rest of us desire. In other people’s loneliness, we are faced with the sad truth that life isn’t fair and that, at any moment, our own happiness can be taken away, too. It is an unpleasant realization, and one that is much easier to ignore than face head-on.
And that’s just how we deal with loss. When it comes to actual emotional engagement with another person, things can be even scarier. This is where the “Loners” come into the picture. In this world, there are those that escape the hotel to live in the woods. David encounters this group and soon finds himself falling in love with an attractive young woman (Rachel Weisz). Unfortunately, in this group of loners, love is forbidden. They have rebelled against the totalitarian government of the hotel, only to have set up another one for themselves. Both are easier than truly contemplating the complexities of romantic interaction, with all of its peaks and valleys.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ ability to explore this world and how fully its inhabitants have internalized the discomfort of human connection is rare in film, and it is appropriate that he should make it a comedy. Because the lengths to which these characters go for philosophical simplicity and emotional comfort is truly absurd. And yet how often have we bent over backwards in a relationship in order to maintain the status quo and not rock the boat? How often have we approached a potential relationship with extreme caution, lest we put ourselves in a position to get hurt?
These are the core truths that The Lobster is interested in, and, in the end, they put our protagonist in a position to choose whether or not to embrace the unquestioned beliefs of this micromanaged world, or set off on his own path, uncharted though it may be. It is a nuanced, complicated situation in a superbly-conceived film. I highly recommend it. Laugh, and despair.