compulsory coupling, deadpan comedy, Eugene Ionesco, Franz Kafka, Godard, Luis Bunuel, Pierrot le Fou, Rhinoceros, the absurdity of life, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Lobster, The Metamorphosis, Yorgos Lanthimos
Last night my husband and I went to a local movie multiplex to see the critically acclaimed film The Lobster directed by a Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. Since I knew that the title “Lobster” refers to an animal/creature that the main character wants to turn into after his attempt at love fails, I expected the film to be an allegory on the absurdity of life after the manner of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (after all lobsters and cockroaches are not so dissimilar), or perhaps an oddball comedy where the audience is meant to accept the zany or uber-silly set-up, suspending disbelief. And, it turned out that my expectation was more or less correct.
The film starts with a lengthy shot (somewhat pointlessly so) of an androgynous person driving in the autumnal field. Since we see only the profile of the driver, we do not know the gender of the driver. Then, suddenly the person, who is now revealed to be a woman, stops the car and shoots one of the three donkeys she sees on the field. This wanton cruelty is not explained. At that moment as audience we feel elements of disgust as well as curiosity. What does this initial scene signify? Then, the narrative abruptly is cut into the main character’s story. The everyman type of main character David, played by Colin Farrell, is now booked into a prison-like hotel where he is expected to find a partner in 45 days. From the voice-over narration we learn that his wife left him for another man and that the dog he brought to this “hotel” is his brother who obviously had failed to form a couple while he was in this kind of hotel.
The film presents the life at the hotel/prison/hospital as extremely banal and mechanical devoid of any sense of lyricism and enchantment that usually accompanies “love.” In some ways, this hotel life seems to me an allegory of online dating that seems quite popular in the U.S. I also thought the situation in the hotel was similar to Japanese society of bygone era when coupling was compulsory. Many episodes at the hotel, often infused with deadpan sense of humor, play out as if they are scenes from the theater of absurd (in a way the film title “The Lobster” may be an allusion to Eugene Ionesco’s avant-garde play Rhinoceros).
Like any society, this “hotel” society also has people who defy its fundamental rule: the compulsory coupledom. These single people flee into the forest, and band together to live in the forest. But they are not really free either. They are forced to stay loners, and if they break this rule by forming love relationships, the punishments are severe.
Colin Farrell character, David, escapes the hotel after his dog/brother gets killed in gruesome manner by the woman who shot the donkey to death at the very beginning of the film. Then, he starts to live in the forest where loners live, but, ironically, falls in love with a loner woman. Since falling in love is a taboo in this forest loners’ society they are meted out a severe punishment: the loner woman is blinded by a surgical knife, and at the end David prepares to blind himself with a steak knife.
Throughout I observed many allusions or homages to past literary works and films (for instance, the forest characters walking aimlessly in the city reminded me of Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie while some of the forest scenes and background music reminded me of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou). The film was utterly unpredictable and intellectually stimulating. But, I felt it ran a little too long – particularly the last quarter of the film. I don’t think the film would have suffered much even if some scenes from the last segment had been cut out.