Love is blind, or is it, in the case of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster?
Sunday evening showtime: The Lobster (2016). My first screening was in San Francisco. The second one was in San Jose terrains. San Jose was much rougher and serious towards Yorgos Lanthimos’s first English-language, feature film. There were sporadic chuckles in the screening, but nervousness resonated in them. San Francisco laughed loudly at the absurdity of the future of human relationships, or in other words, they openly laughed at themselves. Lanthimos’s film surveys myriad of relationship behaviors that, by the end of the movie, we sit perplexed and perturbed. “Is the The Lobster a dystopian satire on modern dating?” — I asked the friend who accompanied me. “Let me digest it. But it makes fun of me.” He said devastated.
Love is blind. Or is love not blind in the case of David and her short-sighted companion? Lanthimos places his characters in a very near dystopia. There are no flying cars, no humans attached to technology, or any World War. The characters are all rolled in a city with impeccable manners, covered by superficial beliefs and heartlessly selective decisions– all of them emotional detached, of course. The robotic expression of characters, the absurdity of scenarios, and the manipulative nature within the dialogues make this film humorously depressing.
The Lobster follows David (Colin Farrell), the only character with a proper name who is one of the many victims of the city’s law, one that plainly states: all single individuals will be sent to a retreat for forty-five days and find a companion with a similar quality. If the individual fails to “fall in love” within that gap of time, then he/she will be turned into an animal of their choice. After being abandoned by his wife, David is taken to the retreat where the romantic hunts occur. Already discouraged by his matrimony, David decidedly knows he wants to be a lobster–merely because “lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.” The Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman) approves of this original choice. Apparently all failed singles sought to be dogs, just like David’s brother. The city is over populated by dogs, and divided by married couples, singles, and loners. The loners are the rebels who escaped the city law and live in the woods. They, too, are not allowed to have romantic encounters among each other. And they only dance to electronic music; keeps one from romance, you know. David escapes to the woods, with the loners, and encounters real love– a near-sighted woman, just as David, who is the film’s narrator (Rachel Weisz).
Most of the couples formed in the resort attempt to synchronize and precisely communicate with their partner, almost without talking. It is whether the couples try to connect with nosebleeds, eye vision, limps, or even rehabilitate relationships with “lent” children. The foundation of any relationship in The Lobster is built by lies. Because what solely drives romance is not love itself, but self-importance– the fear and embarrassment of converting into an animal. A particular woman in the hotel is described as “heartless,” considering that she doesn’t sought to connect with any man and demonstrates no emotion. But, even if she is considered the most heartless character, she is the most heartfelt and sincere person in the film. She doesn’t lie she’s in love, she accepts the future and her inability to love. As David ponders: “It is more difficult to pretend that you do have feelings when you don’t, than to pretend you don’t have feelings when you do.” The rest of the single guests find pretending to have feelings easier, it benefits them anyways.
The Lobster not only welcomes director Lanthimos to the English-speaking film world (with a bigger budget and terrific cast members), it also introduces the American audience to Lanthimos’ sardonic and implacable tone. His past films, which he co-wrote with creative partner, Efthymis Filippou, like Dogtooth (2009) and Alps (2011) illustrate transparent characters and bizarre scenarios cultivated by the broken societal rationality; all with the precise dose of absurdity and seriousness. And his new film serves as a ruthless depiction of love in modern times. In a world where dating sites match us by similar interests, where love turns into an animalistic assignment, and where being single is a sin, finding our one “true love” will consist of mere egoism, loneliness, and desperation– it is one thing to fool ourselves we are in love, and another to fool everybody we are in love. And when self-centered behaviors begin to revolve around vapid relationships, just as David, we will have to make decisions that prove whether we do love or not our partner. Spoiler ahead!
Did David become blind for her? I do not think so. He stopped loving her the moment they stopped sharing the same quality. Lanthimos asks if we want love to become an egocentric game, as if we were animals who select partners for survival. His point is: if what makes us humans is our rationality and our ability to love, why not experience emotions? There’s no law stopping us. For decades, filmmakers have explored the theme of emotionally detached humans in the future. And there’s a reason why these movies exists. This film made me ponder on the Silicon Valley. We are surrounded by beautiful sceneries, progressive jobs, technological advancements, oh, and plenty of heartless citizens. Are we more interested in connecting technologically, than emotionally and physically? Perhaps that is why San Jose was a tougher audience. At least in San Francisco you won’t frequently encounter people who appeared to come out of a Yorgos Lanthimos movie. Speak out, San Joseans!
So let’s love, says The Lobster.
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