The Smothering Binary of The Lobster

Visually, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster is a beautiful film. Lanthimos uses an array of desaturated colors within the environment as well as the costumes, and the combination of dark blues and greens give the visuals a distinct pop. At the same time, however, the desaturated colors also become reflective of the darker themes of the film which concern a world where human relationships are only pragmatic and love may no longer exist. Thimios Bakatakis serves as the film’s cinematographer and reinforces the above theme with his style of mis-en-scene; composition in the film is clean, symmetrical, and orderly, giving a sense of a twisted Wes Anderson at work. In essence, the filmic elements of The Lobster are masterfully crafted and combined. From there, the audience begins to feel a sense of constraint and suffocation that the characters within the film also feel. That same level of constraint present within the style of filmmaking, however, also hold The Lobster back.

The story takes place in a dystopian world where singles are forced to become animals if they should fail to find a significant other. The protagonist in question is David (Colin Farrell), a man who finds himself dumped and consequently at a hotel retreat for singles. As the audience discovers from the voice-over narration, the world of The Lobster is rigid, structural, and split into a binary; at the hotel, David is denied a bi-sexual option and is made to choose either hetero or homosexual. Upon his enrollment into the hotel, David then has 45 days to find a significant other or else the authorities turn him into an animal of his choosing, that animal being a lobster.

Halfway through the film, David runs away from the hotel and into the nearby woods which shelter a group of rebels who choose to remain single. Ironically, in the forest David falls in love with a woman (Rachel Weisz).

The Lobster’s second act where David joins a group of rebels serves a bigger thematic purpose. Whereas the first act of the film introduced characters that explored the limits of love within a pragmatic society—devoid of emotion, characters “fall in love” with their shared flaws—the second act of the film introduces and explores a world where love is capable but disallowed. Splitting the film so gives Lanthimos and his co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou the structure needed to fully explore the themes of the film, giving audiences both ideological camps of the world.

As stated earlier, The Lobster is a brilliantly crafted film.                 The acting, down to body language, is devoid of emotion and personality, yet this isn’t a blight on the film because these elements highlight and reinforce The Lobster’s dark comedy. The composition of the shots bring to life a world composed of a rigid structure, whose people are ruled so. The colors, fashion, and music too also work in this same regard. What’s missing from The Lobster then is a sense of passion both within the style of filmmaking as well as acting.

There are hints of passion at times, such as a one obtrusive make-out scene, but The Lobster and its characters are never able to break free from the constraints set upon the film from the start. In exploring love, Lanthimos chooses to play it not necessarily safe but perhaps personal and that personal aspect is stifling. The constraints set upon the characters by the world, and the style of filmmaking that reflects that constraint make sense. It continues to do so in the second act, because the rebels have their own rules yet ones that operate on the same basis of their enemies: live by the rules or die. But as a character, David is meant to exist in a limbo between these worlds yet the style of filming doesn’t reflect David’s yearning for both love and a place in the world. The Lobster may seemingly present all sides of its ideological conflict yet never truly does.

There’s never any sense of sincerity that expresses David’s feelings and that may be due to Lanthimos’ own beliefs on modern love. The consequent result of there being a lack of expression for David’s love ultimately means that The Lobster takes a stance against love despite the existence of a character who yearns for it so. Those, however, who do believe that love may not exist outside of a system that temporarily keeps loneliness at bay, may find just the film here.

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