There’s nothing quite like The Lobster. David, the main character, arrives at “The Hotel” with his brother, who is a dog. All single people from “The City” are taken to The Hotel. At The Hotel they have forty-five days to couple with another guest or they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David’s choice is a lobster. Remarkably ambitious, The Lobsterconstantly defies expectation. But not all of these risks quite land. At their worst, these quirks, social critiques, and demands on the audience result in a film that is completely impenetrable.
The odd and complex premise unfolds into a film of such strangeness and complication that there is little to grasp onto. The characters, who can only speak in a stilted and simplistic manner, are continuously buffeted by heightened emotional situations in which they have little agency. The movie is almost Kafkaesque—except David, unlike Kafka’s protagonists, understands the strange rules of his world fairly well. But the viewers are left on the outside, alone and confused as they peer through a distorted glass at what is sometimes allegorical, sometimes metaphorical, and often just inscrutable.
While Yorgos Lanthimos seems to be critiquing the cultural emphasis on the necessity of romantic relationships, The Lobster does not function as a straightforward allegorical satire. What is the viewer supposed to make of the band of rebellious singles, who forbid relationships entirely, or of the singles in the hotel having their zoomorphic transformations postponed one day for every renegade single they shoot with a tranquilizer gun? That neither exclusively valuing romantic relationships nor forbidding them is wise? This seems too obvious a theme for such a complicated movie. Perhaps that there is conflict between singles searching for a relationship and those refusing the cultural imperative to be in a relationship? This almost certainly is taking a metaphor far too literally.
The Lobster is also unexpectedly and relentlessly bleak. The film is sometimes very funny, but the events can be shockingly dark. As a whole, it is unlikely to leave viewers with high spirits; however, scenes that would otherwise be downright horrifying are undercut by the unnaturalness of the characters. Along with strange, stilted speech, the characters’ decisions wholly defy explanation, making it nearly impossible to sympathize with them. The film has the feel of a highly narrative dream—careening through a fuzzy and irrational space without anything concrete to ground you but the chain of events unfolding before your eyes. As if in a nightmare, the viewers quickly forget why things happen, but can’t seem to erase from their minds the striking and frightful images left behind.
The Lobster defies category. It’s sometimes funny but certainly isn’t a comedy. It’s set in a dystopian future, but someone expecting science fiction would almost certainly be disappointed. It’s filled with tragedy, but unlike in a drama, it’s impossible to follow character motivations. The Lobster is an original and slightly maddening film. Completely unlike most films around now, The Lobster probably won’t have many imitators in the future.