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Although dystopias are in vogue, partly as a byproduct of the boom in popularity of young adult fiction, most mainstream portrayals of dystopia ultimately rely on similar genre clichés, such as the good-evil binary between faceless, authoritarian governments and rebellious, free-thinking youth. “The Lobster” quite contrarily explores the importance of having a middle ground in such binaries, its unique premise being that all single people in society must find a partner within 45 days or they will be permanently transformed into an animal of their choosing. From Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos—also known for the lurid and provocative “Canine (Dogtooth)”—the cleverly written film is a hilarious, understated black comedy that explores the dangerous ramifications of in-group bias and conforming to labels.
Colin Farrell stars as David, a recent widower who is sent to The Hotel to find a new partner within the designated time limit. Once there, he befriends two other single men—played by John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw—and engages in brief romantic encounters with some of the women—played by Jessica Barden and Angeliki Papoulia. By leaving all of these characters nameless—for instance, Reilly’s character is called Lisping Man while Barden’s is named Nosebleed Woman—Lanthimos and script co-writer Efthimis Filippou make an explicit statement on how our identities can easily and problematically be reduced to specific characteristics that define us.
Throughout Hotel-organized dances, seminars, and daily hunts for single people, David fails to completely assimilate into the culture of The Hotel and find a partner. Later in the film, he also fails to fully conform to the solitary, electronic dance music-oriented lifestyle of a renegade band of single people led by a character played by Léa Seydoux. The stakes are raised when he forms a forbidden relationship with a fellow loner (played by Rachel Weisz) against the rules of their outsider society. Seydoux’s deadpan portrayal of the heartless Loner Leader, combined with the romantic chemistry between Farrell and Weisz, shifts this slow-burn comedy-drama into high gear during the film’s third act.
Through these two opposing factions, Lanthimos and Filippou explore the question of what it means to truly belong. Can a relationship be founded solely upon the fact that two people are both shortsighted or prone to nosebleeds? Is it worth sacrificing individuality for the sake of belonging—whether to a society of couples or of single people, within a relationship with one other person, or to any group in general? The film’s shocking conclusion leaves that final judgment ambiguous—but not without demonstrating the legitimate dangers of blindly conforming. It seems that there are much worse things than being turned into a lobster
—Staff writer Alan R. Xie can be reached at email@example.com.
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