Film Review: “The Lobster”, (2016)

lobster
Credit: IMDB

Romance. Singleness. Loneliness. Awkwardness. Animals.

David (Colin Farrell) has recently been separated from his wife. As a result, he is to attend a hotel with other singles and given 45 days to find true love or otherwise risk being turned into an animal of his choice – which is a lobster. While at the hotel, David befriends other single men looking for love, takes part in hunting games whereby they tranquillize ‘loners’ (those that never tried to find love) and awkwardly tries to find love himself. He eventually escapes and joins a group of escaped Loners, led by their leader (Lea Seydoux), with severe rules over remaining single. Suffice to say, David falls in love with one of the group members – ‘the short-sighted woman’ (Rachel Weisz, who is also the narrator of part of the film too).

The Lobster is a hilariously awkward and absurd film. The premise of the prohibition of singleness, is not really explained apart from awkward demonstrations from the hotel staff of the benefits of companionship. As a single person, I was struck at how well the film did portray some of the desperation that comes from seeking long-term companionship, even if through largely one-dimensional characters. Yet, it is through these characters that the film’s strongest thesis – how much couples have in common to be loved and understood – is explored. Just how far are you willing to go for true love?

Ben Whishaw’s character ‘the Limping Man’ desperately tries to find other women with limps but finds no success. While lusting over one of the single women as she swims (whose main ‘thing’ is that she has random nose bleeds) and unsuccessfully attempting to find common ground about different swim strokes, he breaks his nose in order to have it bleed, thus have something in common with her. They get together, however The Limping Man is then always having to break his nose to stay with her. David himself also attempts a relationship early on with a woman at the hotel (‘the heartless woman’), which ends in the death of a character and David’s awkward escape from the hotel.

Once David escapes and joins the Loners, he meets Rachel Weisz’s character, with whom he shares short-sightedness. What ensues is a hilarious attempt at them keeping their love under wraps through a series of gestures to communicate their love for one another. However once the group’s cynical leader realises that there’s something going on (and it’s all too obvious), she takes Weisz’s character to an eye specialist, claiming that she will have the short-sightedness removed (which Weisz’s character protests, knowing the implications to her relationship). As an act of cunning, they blind her instead. This seriously tests David’s love, which for a while appears to be steadfast.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, those (too) oft quoted words:

Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself” . . .

We are naturally attracted to those like us. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a normal part of how we develop friendships and romance. It means people understand us. Once David and the short-sighted (now blind) woman escape, they wind up at a diner where David requests a steak knife for breakfast, as he plans to blind himself to be with Weisz’s now-blind character. The film ends with him in the bathroom, holding the knife up to his eye, in a state of hesitation; it cuts back to Weisz, sitting in the cafe booth, patiently waiting for him to return. We never know whether David goes through with blinding himself for love, which really makes one ask how love can continue, especially when those things we have in common fall apart? Can we still be understood?

Which is why the conception of love in the film is adequate in some ways, but too narrow in others. I like that this film questions the societal obsession of romantic love over singleness, but then its views on chosen singleness are too cynical, with the idea of contentedness in singleness non-existent (perhaps because of the impositions of the dystopian society). Although the film doesn’t answer whether David will go through the ultimate act of self-mutilation for love, it does raise the question on how far common ground is necessary for love, and what foundations and definitions we have for what love is. For The Lobster, it seems to suggest that as long as the common ground is there, there is a foundation. It doesn’t appear to possess the notion of ‘in sickness and in health, till death do us part,’ which is love that persists despite the difficulties of relating.

The Lobster questions what love is in the modern context. I highly recommend this bizarre, funny and thought-provoking film about relationships.

 

 

Richard Thomas

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