The Lobster may be the most subversive romantic comedy ever

rachel weisz colin farrell the lobster

On my second date with my wife, we went to comedy club.  The headlining comedian had a joke about the difference between living with a roommate and living with a romantic partner that went something like this: “Why is it that if you forget to do the dishes like your roommate asked, he calls you an asshole and that’s the end of it, but when it’s your girlfriend, it’s not really about the dishes?”  (For the record, this isn’t really my type of humor; my taste is a littler edgier, like Louis CK or Nathan Fielder.)  But after nine years of marriage, I’ve come to realize there’s a certain truth to that joke.  Now imagine that corny joke as a bizarre dystopian future, and you have some inkling of what The Lobster is about.

The premise of the film is simple: you can either be in a relationship (with or without children, depending on how much you argue) and happy or alone and literally in fear of your life.  Single people have 45 days to find a mate or they are transformed into an animal of their choice.  Mates are paired off by having something very specific in common such as nosebleeds, limps, or nearsightedness (several offers of sex are rebuffed due to lack of nearsightedness).  There is an option to live the rest of your life on the run with other “loners,” but their rules are completely opposite if equally strict.  This may seem like a lot to digest, but it’s better you watch The Lobster knowing the rules – otherwise, you’ll spend a good portion of it reacting to the ridiculous things you’re hearing as ridiculous things, rather than the everyday concerns of the characters.  In other words, it’s definitely funnier to watch them consider whether or not to register as hetero or homosexual as if it were the same as choosing a window or an aisle seat than play catch up with “Wait, how do they get turned into animals again?”

The Lobster has a lot of talent in it, both in front of and behind the camera.  Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Wishaw, and Olivia Colman (nice to see her not looking nearly as frazzled as she does on Broadchurch and The Night Manager) are all excellent.  Likewise the overall production design, which features an elegant, minimalist future reminiscent of Gattaca.  But this isn’t a movie about performances and technical details, as good as they are – it’s about the concept.

I imagine that most people will either find this one of the funnier and more subversive films of the past few years, or they’ll be completely non-plussed by it.  (I was the former, my wife the latter.)  While I’ve never seen his other films, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has a reputation for  exposing the hypocrisy or sheer ridiculousness of everyday life.  So forget the high-concept animal transformation element and just think about what relationships would be like if all the subtext were stripped away.  “Am I walking at a suitable pace?” “Yes, but you’re holding my hand too tightly and my palm is sweaty.”  Every couple has had that conversation, but it’s never been that straightforward.  More everyday situations are presented as bizarre performance art.  Conversations about being in love become hilarious when delivered in a affectless monotone, or followed by a complete non-sequitur.  Likewise social conventions, as a passionate but cringe-worthy make out session in front of a friend’s parents demonstrate.

But what really made me laugh was how little Lanthimos had to tweak our world to make it seem completely ludicrous.  And I don’t think The Lobster’s world is that far off the mark.  A few years ago, I had to take a Myers-Briggs personality test for work.  After stumbling across a Myers-Briggs compatibility web site – yes, such a thing exists – I asked my wife to take the test as well.  Before she did, however, I guessed her personality type and was relieved to find out that we were pretty compatible (at least according to this web site).  It turns out I had guessed her type wrong, but it also turns out that my type was still very compatible with her actual type.  And every other type.  With so many rules out there for dating or marriage that people follow without question, with so many conversations between couples not really about doing the dishes or one’s walking pace, and with so many convoluted ways we convince ourselves that it’s important to “have something in common,” Lanthimos seems to be asking why animal transformation is the crazy part of this film.

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6 thoughts on “The Lobster may be the most subversive romantic comedy ever

  1. Also really want to watch this film, but have been putting it off because it seems like something difficult to digest, a complex film to watch. Yet, you make it sound so interesting I think I will have to stop putting it off and just watch the film. Thanks for the great and very compelling review 🙂

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      1. Finally watched The Lobster. Your analysis did make it much easier for me to watch, but I still feel very odd about it all. I felt the inhumanity of the characters were a bit unbelievable. They too easily felt nothing for others. In our society saturated with human rights it seems weird that people wouldn’t care about these kind of things. I still found the relationship between the two protagonists great. Actually, the whole concept was very entertaining even if it was a bit eerie.
        Will send a link to my review when I get around to finishing it 🙂

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      2. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I couldn’t quite put it into words in my review but now I think that the artificiality of it all is what I found so funny. Just by making things we do naturally – talk, share interests, kiss – look so fake pushed it into brilliant satire for me.
        Totally agree about the rule following too. After a while, their non-reactions to rule after ridiculous rule made me laugh as well.
        Glad you liked it. Looking forward to reading your review.

        Liked by 1 person

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