I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
The Lobster is basically an extended Monty Python skit blown up into a feature length movie. Initially amusing, it falls apart in the second half. While it benefits from Rachel Weisz’s narration, which somehow combines deadpan comic timing with utter sincerity, and while it does, as Daniel Levine points out, accurately dramatize the contemporary west’s political and cultural malaise, it never quite overcomes being straight jacketed into its high-concept premise.
David, Colin Farrell sporting a “dad bod,” lives in a dystopian society where all adults are required, not only to be married, but to fall in love. Singles are transported to a posh resort in the Irish countryside where they are given forty five days either to find a partner, or to be surgically transformed into the animal of their choice. The title of the film is the animal specifies that he’d like to be should he fail the test. He loves the ocean. And lobsters can live to one hundred years old. Personally, I would have chosen to become a bear. The film never points out the minimum age for a first marriage – the “guests” seem to range in age from eighteen or nineteen to their forties and fifties – but I got the overall impression of a lot of relatively young people transported prematurely to a retirement community.
“Love” in the world of The Lobster seems to depend mostly on having some kind of physical or emotional flaw in common with a member of the opposite sex. A young man with a limp hooks up with a young woman with a nose bleed. He bangs his head on the table until he draws blood from his nostrils. David attempts to find his match with a woman who “has no feelings” – she’s actually a sadist – but the prospective marriage fails when she kicks his brother – who’s already been transformed into a border collie – to death, and he shows too much anger and grief. Another young woman, who’s vain about her long blond hair, ends up as a Shetland Pony. When David escapes the resort with the help of a sympathetic maid and joins a band of “loners” in the woods, he sincerely falls in love a character played by Rachel Weisz, not because she looks like Rachel Weisz, but because they’re both near sighted. Why Collin Farrell gets to look like a high-school history teacher with a cheesy mustache and Rachel Weisz looks as hot as she always does is a question I’ll leave to feminists.
The leader of the “loners,” a stone cold tyrant played by the French actress Léa Seydoux, rules over a guerrilla movement where no sex or romantic attachments are allowed. If “love” is pretty near impossible when it’s required, then it’s pretty much inevitable when it’s forbidden. There seems to be some kind of lesbian attachment between “the leader” and the maid who helps David escape and who’s a double agent between the hotel and the loners – if only because they both speak French – but that possible narrative arc is never quite fleshed out. I’ll leave that question to the feminists as well. In any event, when “the leader,” either consciously or not, senses the chemistry between Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, she begins to take them on trips to “the city” – the straight world of the happily married – on surveillance missions.
The Lobster is actually a film that might have worked better had it had a happy ending. Since Farrell and Weisz are required to act like a happily married couple in love they soon begin to have the genuine feelings of a happily married couple in love. It’s a convincing insight. People rarely fall in love at first sight. They hook up with someone they can tolerate and learn to fall in love with him, or her. But after “the leader” figures out that Weisz and Farrell are “breaking the rules” she takes Weisz to the city alone and has her blinded. Weisz thinks she’s going to receive some kind of Lasik surgery to cure her nearsightedness, so she puts up little or no resistance, but it’s so unconvincing that I had to check a summary of the film on the Internet to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood the plot. “The leader” is such a stone cold bitch it’s impossible to believe anybody capable of falling in love would trust her. Farrell proves his love by blinding himself, another unconvincing narrative arc. Part of the reason Weisz fell in love with him in the first place was that he helped find her extra food. Surely she’d resist her lover’s voluntarily making himself as helpless as she is as much as she’d resist being taken to the city to get blinded. It makes perfectly sense ideologically. As Daniel Levine convincing argues, The Lobster is a high concept satire about a civilization too imaginatively bankrupt not only to resist tyranny but even to imagine what freedom would look like. It doesn’t work dramatically. The Lobster’s final scene, Colin Farrell in the restroom trying to work up the courage to gouge out both is eyes with a knife, comes off as forced, as the writer trying to wrestle both his characters into a high-concept straight jacket.
The dramatization of the idea of “compulsory love,” however, works quite well. Olivia Colman, who won the British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the hotel manager convincingly plays a dictator with the power of life and death as a cheerful hospitality professional. The idea of compulsory marriage, or sex, is nothing new, especially for women. Juliet fakes her death to escape being coerced by her father into an arranged marriage with Paris, but Juliet knows what true love is, and Shakespeare knows that love and rebellion are almost always entwined. Love and conformism, however, true love as a requirement enforced by a virtue signaling tyrant, is a kind of totalitarianism that seems particularly relevant in the age of positive consent laws, safe spaces, speech codes, and political correctness.
There is state coercion in The Lobster. During a trip to the city, the cops question Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, ask them for their “papers,” and don’t even say “please.” The hotel mounts daily hunting expedition where the “guests” have an extra day tacked onto their forty-five day time limit for every “loner” they shoot with a tranquilizer gun, but we never get the sense that any of the “guests” at the hotel had to be brought there at gunpoint. One of the best scenes in film, for example, is the interview David undergoes when he checks into the hotel. He’s treated, not as a prisoner, but as a loyal customer. The hotel is depicted as a luxury resort, not a concentration camp. The “guests” submit to their imprisonment largely because they seem to agree with the idea that being a “loner” is wrong, that it’s somehow in their interest to be forced into a happy marriage under threat of becoming the animal of their choice. The threat of violence is always present – the scene where the “heartless woman” kicks David’s brother to death is remarkably vivid and terrifying — but this is hardly Pasolini’s Salo or even Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. If the threat of violence is always there it’s also rarely needed. It never seems to occur to any of the guests that they have guns provided to them by their jailers, whom they also seem to outnumber twenty or thirty to one. They’re in prison, not because they have to be, or even because they want to be, but because they can’t imagine anything else.