Yorgos Lanthimos is a strange and comforting storyteller. Satire, among other themes, runs deep in his movies, aided by a terrific screenplay and visionary actors. The Lobster (2015) is one of the most off-kilter attempts at social critique and a decidedly wonderful one too.
The movie begins with the shot of a morose-looking David (played by Colin Farrell), who has just been given the news that his wife has found someone new. As the rules of the society command, he is moved into a hotel, where he'd be allowed to spend a few days finding himself another suitable prospect. If he fails, the law necessitates him to turn into an animal of his choice. The parameters of registering matches are pretty absurd as well: both partners can have nose bleeds, have a limp, or be short-sighted.
The premise of the movie is quite outlandish and certainly very off-putting. However, to understand what the filmmaker is trying to say, we need to commit to the eccentricity imbued in it. And the cinematographer, Thimios Bakatakis, makes it easy. Every frame is a visual treat. We are watching dystopia unravel before us, and yet we calmly letting it grow. Much like reality.
During David's stay at the hotel, he witnesses the hotel managers carry out various presentations which prominently advocate the need of having a romantic partner. The guests' daily activities are fashioned in a way to remind the advantages of companionship, and the lack thereof. David enters the hotel as clueless as one could be and gradually befriends two people: one, who is trying hard to find himself a match, and another who is pretty defeated at the prospect of the same (played impeccably by John C. Reilly). As is the need of the hour, David finds himself a match. He even pretends to be apathetic towards people, a trait his partner possesses. However, the ripple effect of such a pretence upends his life; his partner kills his dog, without any reason whatsoever. Disgusted by the Kafka-esque condition of the hotel and society in general, he escapes and finds himself a place in the forest nearby. Eventually, he gets introduced to the world of "loners", people who get to do whatever they want and spend their lives without any rules. It feels liberating in the beginning. But soon, the true colours of this bunch also get exposed. Even a faint glimmer of romance or any form of human affection really is punished horrifically. One has the liberty to live alone, but with it comes the burden of not loving anyone at all.
Both the hotel and the forest are nestled in an isolated corner of Lanthimos's world. It is when we move to the city that we understand the gravity of the situation. Every city dweller is strip-searched for any clue that indicates that they're a loner, and once singled out, this person is sent to the hotel. Marriage, or the state of a romantic partnership, is much more than what we thought — it is mandatory and strictly patrolled by the police.
This provides much-needed insight into what the movie wants to achieve.
Finding a companion is very hard in a world where people are obsessed with superficial traits and qualities. However, it is doubly so nowadays, because companies choose to capitalize on these traits. Everyone around us is in a constant search for a partner, and the only happy people around seem to be the ones who are couples. What about those who are incapable of finding that happiness, then? What about people like the character of John C. Reilly — someone who is not pretty in the conventional sense and has no intention of lying to get a match? These people perish in the world of this movie, a metaphorical parallel to the way 'loners' are treated in the real world too.
Despite the quirky world and its weird rules, the ending of the movie exudes copious amounts of romance. It shows the type of love you'd expect in a fable or an old-timey Hollywood picture. And that serves as the boldest protest against a world which knows nothing but to categorise people in boxes.