Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster dissects the fragile foundations upon which our society has built the concept of love. In this dystopian world (which coincidentally resembles a rather bleak and rural England), monogamy becomes the law, as all civilised humans are forced to find one partner in order to, literally, remain human. The film’s protagonist, David (Colin Farrell), checks himself into a dystopian relationship retreat, where he must find a partner within 45 days, otherwise he will be turned into an animal of his choice. His choice: a lobster, because ‘lobsters live for over one hundred years’. Judging by David’s apparent dispassionate outlook on life, this answer seems almost too optimistic; an ironic foreshadowing of David’s constant desire to rebel against the monogamous norm, just as male lobsters are known for being promiscuous creatures.
The ideologies and philosophies about the concepts of relationships and love become the overwhelming message of Lanthimos’ film. The Lobster examines monogamy through its presentation of binaries; all are forced to conform to the binary structure of their society. In one of the opening scenes, when filling out his personal information sheet, David asks the receptionist ‘Is there a bi-sexual option available?’. The receptionist bluntly replies, ‘No, Sir, this option is no longer available […] due to several operational problems.’ All the characters have singular attributes that are used to persuade their suitability for one another: Jessica Barden plays a woman that has frequent nosebleeds and Ben Whishaw pretends he also gets nose bleeds, so he can match with her (which surprisingly works). The characters must adapt and morph into a standardised thing in order to survive; their survival instincts are put into action, except they aren’t being chased by bears or hunted by a serial killer, they are finding a mate. There is no explanation for these decisions, just as it seems there is no reason for societal rules, such as monogamy. Just as David does not question the heterosexual option, he merely accepts the relationship guidelines society puts into place for him.
Lanthimos’ film is a rather horrific view of our life expectations. We look upon these character’s situation with horror and fright, but not realising that we too have all been guests at this mystical retreat. From birth, we are embedded with the expectations that we must ‘find our significant other, fall in love, get married and have kids’. Although Lanthimos’ dystopian society may seem so far removed from our own, the terror of it all is that our society is not much different (we just don’t have a brash Olivia Colman telling us off and threatening to turn us into animals).
Despite the suffocating hold this society and retreat has over him, David inhabits a grey way of living that does not blend into the black and white preferences chosen by the retreat. For Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz’s respective characters, rebellion from society and its unwavering expectations of them leads to dire consequences. They are ostracised from society and forced to perform horrific acts in order to escape. Ultimately, they can’t escape from the oppressive dictatorship surrounding them; perhaps that reflects on our inability to escape ourselves.
The Lobster is ultimately a critique of the dichotomous world we have generated for our species that is inherently indecisive. Through his striking imagery, oppressive aesthetic and his actor’s bizarre actions, Lanthimos critiques the Western ideology of relationships, of society’s expectation for us and of the media’s persistent heterosexual messaging. The Lobster is about the innate human desire for power and control, and how this leads to conformity under a dictatorship, which provokes rebellion and destruction.