“The Lobster” is a dark comedy that explores the societal pressure to conform to relationships and societal norms, as a man seeks to find love in a dystopian world where single people are transformed into animals if they fail to find a partner within 45 days.
Introduction to The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos is a brilliant director who has etched his name into the minds of audiences and cinema history. With his film Dogtooth (2009), Lanthimos first gained worldwide recognition among cinephiles, and with his subsequent film, Alps (2011), he hinted at his mischievous, mind-bending, and striking approach to cinema. Finally, we realized our instincts were correct, as The Lobster (2015) marked the pinnacle of the talented director’s filmography. The film, which won the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, contains many qualities that could make it a cult classic in the years to come. These dizzying qualities take the viewer’s excitement to the point of suffocation throughout the film, providing a draining experience until the credits roll.
The Lobster begins with one of the dominant fixed-shot compositions, giving the impression from the very first scene that the story will progress in a dark direction. The richness of the subject matter and subtext addressed by the director is the biggest indicator that we are facing a dark and dystopian universe. However, the director expertly blends the contrast between drama and comedy, as if it were a humorous Haneke feat, in his film’s construction.
Divisions of the Film: Hotel Visit, Loners, and Escape
The film can be divided into three parts: hotel visit, loners, and escape. In the opening section, the director shows the audience that absurd situations will occur when David (Colin Farrell) enters the hotel, which imposes the condition that visitors must find a romantic partner. The characters’ apathy, numbness, and emotional emptiness create the conditions of the world in which the film takes place. We can say that the human conditions that occasionally remind us of Jens Lien’s The Bothersome Man (2006) actually reflect the difficulties experienced by modern individuals. The striking events in the film and the conditions imposed on the hotel and its guests show how the system and environment in which we live shape us based on marriage. Hotel guests must find a partner during their stay, and they determine their partner preferences during check-in. For example, a visitor can say during registration that they want to have a homosexual relationship and are intending to find a partner accordingly. Thus, within the story, a mise-en-scène similar to the sexual game played with ‘Soma’ pills in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World takes place.
While witnessing all the absurdities experienced by David during his hotel visit, we can take a breath in the comedy scenes regularly placed by the director after the shocking scenes. For example, hotel guests cannot masturbate to satisfy themselves according to the rules. To prevent them from losing their interest in sexuality if they cannot find a partner, they are encouraged by hotel staff. Like individuals who are tired of escaping from the capitalist modern world and falling back into the system’s arms, hotel guests also cannot lose their interest in sexuality and go outside this system. Because they are all in the grip of Big Brother. The director’s mixture of such scenes with comedy reminds us that we are in a state of laughing at our pitiful condition.
The Imposition of the System: Marriage and Society
The hotel management regularly puts on propaganda campaigns encouraging visitors to find an emotional partner, as the institution of marriage is seen as a necessary prerequisite for starting a family in most societies. Extramarital relationships are always subject to societal pressure, and those who engage in them are looked down upon. The numerous motifs used by the hotel management to impose their desired messages demonstrate the loneliness of single people and the vulnerability of women without husbands to various forms of harm (harassment, rape, etc.). Those who achieve the promises made by the hotel become role models for visitors.
In today’s world, even among famous people, having extramarital relationships takes them out of the role model status and families discourage their children from following in their footsteps. As a result, the famous and popular individuals who are pawns of the system and dictated by the media as role models begin to disrupt the functioning of the system they are part of. Similar to the film, the hotel, which represents the system and is vital for its survival, constructs marriage as an attractive and sacred object that must be obtained in order to maintain control over society. The hotel management even promises to provide visitors who embark on romantic relationships with a child if they encounter any difficulties in their relationships, in order to ensure the smooth running of their stay. If visitors are unable to find a partner during their stay, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the wild. Unlike Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a cockroach and the horrified looks of those around him, those who undergo a transformation in the film take on the form of the desired animal. In this scenario, David chooses to become a lobster because he loves swimming.
Yorgos Lanthimos places the focus of the film’s subtext on the search for new resources by large countries and their exploitation of third-world countries, ultimately leading to the creation of a greed empire that deprives a significant portion of the world of civilization. He whispers to us that the universe he creates is actually our world today. For example, hotel guests earn extra days of stay when they successfully hunt down a loner during their daily hunting trips. This brings them even closer to the promised happy marriage, honeymoon on a boat, and eventually, the dream of living a free life in a modern city. As in the capitalist system, the trapped individual achieves their goals by stepping on someone else’s back, a practice that occurs between hotel guests and loners.
David, who was convinced to find a mate by going against his nature, later fails to adapt to this relationship and, after experiencing a great upheaval, escapes from the hotel and joins the resistance group. Thus, the development section of the film, which revolves around the loners, begins.
Metaphors for Modern Society: Greed Empire, Capitalism, and Individualism
Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” portrays a society where individuals are forced to find a romantic partner or be turned into an animal and released into the wild. In this world, the “loners” resist the system and live in the wilderness. However, as the loners struggle to maintain their individuality, they develop their own set of strict rules and harsh punishments for members who engage in relationships. The film offers a bleak commentary on the loneliness and isolation of modern life, revealing that even those who reject the system and seek individualism can become trapped in their own self-imposed isolation. Through the characters’ actions, we see the futility of resisting society’s expectations and the danger of seeking to escape into one’s own world. The film provides a stark reminder that true happiness and fulfillment can only be achieved through genuine human connections.
The “loners” resist the system’s dictate of finding a romantic partner and rebel against the system that turns non-conforming individuals into animals and releases them into the wild. Within this resistance group, their own rules are formed and heavy penalties are imposed on those who engage in relationships. As we get to know the “loners”, we see that the members of the resistance group are individualistic people. They even satisfy their sexual needs through masturbation and entertain themselves alone by listening to electronic music. The “loners” depict the situation of modern metropolitan individuals in cities such as New York, Paris, and Tokyo and reveal the sorry state of even the enlightened individuals. Despite wanting to stay outside the system, the individual who succumbs to individualism and loneliness transforms their life into a solitary existence, even resisting the first two steps of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Moreover, the corruption within the groups they belong to shows that this path they have chosen is like a black hole that consumes everything and they are ultimately defeated by the system.
Conclusion: Lanthimos’ Dark, Mischievous, and Striking Approach to Cinema
The individual must succumb to societal pressure in order to be successful in today’s world. The ridiculous and fake behaviors of the hotel guests to conform to each other’s lifestyles and habits, as well as the insignificant and empty conversations of city dwellers, highlight how much we are living in a hollow modern age. And when we look around us, we realize that these are the realities that surround us. This realization makes the film even more impactful. The events of the film are like a theater show put on to maintain the continuity of the system. The director conveys this feeling by including a narrator and a theatrical atmosphere to accompany the events that take place in the dystopian world, in contrast to Trier’s Dogville (2003) theater stage. Similar to the external narrator who describes the events on stage throughout Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, a narrator with the same formula has been applied to this film as well. As the plot progresses, we learn that this narrator actually belongs to a character who is the turning point of the film.
In the meantime, the members of the revolution group blindly follow their leader without realizing that the resistance has become corrupt. The leader of the individualists’ revolution is also a despot, displaying a cowardly and totalitarian leadership like Stalin. He sends an ex-hotel employee who joins the resistance as if it were his own fight against the Myopic Girl character (played by Rachel Weisz), whom he claims to have blinded himself. In this way, he makes them feel as if they have fought the battle themselves, without the person in front of them realizing it. Ultimately, he shows the members of the resistance that he is an invincible leader by demonstrating that he can die and come back to life. The management Orwell wrote about in “1984” is taking place inside the hotel, while the resistance is happening among the individualists. In fact, a pig that approaches the individualists in one scene reminds us of this fact.
Yorgos Lanthimos The Lobster stands out as the pinnacle of the striking and sharp Greek cinema, which Lanthimos began with Dogtooth and Alexandros Avranas continued with Miss Violence (2013). The film’s numerous metaphors, which are abundant due to the director’s rhetorical narration and sarcasm, can be exhausting for viewers at times, slowing down the film’s pace. However, the humoristic narrative serves as a rescue for the viewers’ attention in these moments. We can say that what is told throughout the film are already pre-existing topics. Perhaps what is said will melt away in the face of the magnitude of the system once again. The director seems to respond to this dilemma with his sarcastic language. Mischievous viewers will more or less guess how the open-ended situation at the end of the film will conclude. After all, we are all like a lobster struggling for survival in the grip of Big Brother. Our chance of salvation depends on how we sharpen our own claws.
Last modified: July 8, 2023