Explainers

‘The Lobster’, Explained

Updated September 21, 2018
27 min read

There are so many times when we think out loud our wishes of being an animal. “I wish I was a bird so I could fly high in the sky”, “I wish I was a fish so I could swim into the depths of the sea”, “I wish I was a cheetah so I could run faster than anyone”, or, “I wish I was a koala so I could sleep and eat all day, and not be bothered by anyone”. (Just so you know, I would be a koala!) I wonder if someone said something like this to Yorgos Lanthimos and he decided to build a world where this happens, except no one really wants it anymore. Typical case of careful what you wish for!

When I first watched ‘The Lobster’, I must say that I didn’t quite like it as much as I do now. It seemed drab and monotonous, and even though it was quite hilarious, it seemed rather cheerless, most of the times. So, when I found out that this film had received the Jury Prize at the Cannes, I was taken by surprise. I perceived it to be just another case where a film had been overrated for being different. Turns out, I was utterly wrong and that I needed to grow up a bit to understand why it was such a great film, indeed. In all honesty, ‘The Lobster’ will not cater to everyone. It is a very unique film, not just because of the peculiar story it tries to tell, but also because of the way it tries to tell it. Cinematically beautiful and profoundly meaningful, this film aims to be much, much more than just a means of entertainment.

The Lobster, A Summary

Before I begin tearing it down, frame by frame, explaining what made me change my mind, here is a brief summary of what this film entails. David, played by Colin Farrell, is divorced when his partner of ‘11 years and one month’ leaves him for someone else. He is sent to the Hotel where he has to spend 45 days looking for a new partner. If successful, he will move on to the next stages of building a perfect relationship and passing through them, he will be sent back to the city, along with his new partner. However, if he fails to find a partner, he will be changed into an animal of his choice and let out into the world to spend the rest of his life as that animal. David chooses to become a lobster if he is not successful and seems quite at peace with the idea for the most part. His mentality takes a considerable turn by the end of his time, and he ends up finding love in the most unusual of places.

A Single Person’s Nightmare

If you are someone who has been single for a long time, then you must be familiar with the nagging that the parents and the relatives and the neighbours and everyone else in the world give you about being single! There are so many things that I want to be removed from this world, and this unbearably irritating and perpetually existing badgering is one of those things. Now, in our world, we might be hassled for being single, but it is not a crime. Except for the incessant blabber from Aunt So-and-So, there is no punishment for not finding a partner. David, however, does not have this luxury. He lives in a society that just can’t have its wits right if the singles are walking the earth. Eradicate them. That’s what. And this is exactly what happens here. A 45-day deadline to find a person for yourself or you are an animal. (And I thought my work deadlines were unfair!)

One of the most prominent themes of ‘The Lobster’ is the modern relationships and how they work. The Hotel is clearly an allusion to the dating websites where people register with the hopes of finding a partner, though maybe not in a specific number of days. They give their defining qualities. While in our world, people can afford to lie and get away with it. They often make fake profiles and find partners. But in this film, such things are highly limited due to the personal interactions. If you have a limp, you can’t hide it. If you have a lisp, it will be your defining characteristic rather than your kind heart and good companionship. If you are short-sighted, you’ll be identified as The Short-Sighted Man, and not as a compassionate and devout person. So, yeah, stakes are pretty high in the Hotel.

It would have been an easier thing to find a partner if this whole “defining characteristic” thing was ruled out. But, the society, here, is quite set in its rules. There needs to be a defining similarity in a couple if they are to stay together. Two different people can’t be together. It just doesn’t make sense! A giraffe wouldn’t mate with a hippopotamus, right? The logic is quite solid, indeed. 45-days is a lot of pressure to put on someone who has just gotten out of a relationship, or for someone whose wife has recently died, to find a partner. The fact that this emotional toll on a person’s psyche is not considered points towards the fact that the society’s emotional range has become as vacant as the vacuous dialogue delivery in this film. The pressure on singles has mounted exponentially and people have to, now, resort to ways of lying about themselves in order to hitch with someone.

John has to bash his nose on anything he can lay his hands on, in order to show compatibility with a girl whose defining characteristic is nosebleeds. (What even!) David, in his short-sightedness, decides to fake himself as a heartless person, in order to make a pair with the Heartless Woman. She is clearly an appalling person. She watches a woman writhing and crying in pain, and she just sits there bored, commenting on the “blood and biscuits”. She is a sadist who in order to confirm her doubts about David, kicks his dog, that was actually his own brother, to death! (Psycho alert!)

People mimicking someone else’s trait for pairing up with them isn’t something original anyway. Something similar has happened in the world for a very long time, and perhaps too frequently nowadays. People pretend to like something in order to please a person they think they like. This, however, is not the recipe for a successful relationship. And no matter what her flaws, the Heartless Woman knows that! The society knows that! Why didn’t David get it? Perhaps because of the inherent bigotry that seems to exist everywhere. You don’t want people to get into a relationship based on a lie, but you accept their compatibility based on the fact that they share nosebleeds!

Zero One Zero One Zero Zero

Black and white. Monochrome. This is how the society is. It’s not just about building a relationship with a person based on just one common thing, it’s about everything being binary; everything being one or other. Nothing in between. When David tries to list himself as a bisexual, he is told the option has expired! He has to decide about his sexuality, then and there! Why is there a constraint on someone’s sexuality? But, isn’t that the question that we’ve been asking in our world, as well. The LGBTQ+ community has to still fight for its right in many parts of the world. How does someone fight for their individuality? How does someone decide on their sexuality within a few seconds? Why do they have to give up one part of themselves in favour of the other? Why can’t they just be themselves, whole or fractioned!

Even the shoe number in this film has to be one thing or another. So, he has to either wear a shoe that is a bit tight or a shoe that hangs slack. In any case, he has to live with a shoe that doesn’t fit! However, the exact length of your relationship has to be known, because that’s important! One thing we did learn from this film is that people need to get their priorities right! People have to conform to the expectations of the society in the weirdest of ways. There is no place for fluidity, everything is fixed. Everything is black or white, there is no such thing as in between. There is no grey. And isn’t this the root of all problems in our world? For a section of society, there is just one religion and nothing else. For some people, building a literal wall is the only way of solving the problems.

The film shows how singular and non-binary the society has become. The idea of love and relationships aren’t distorted for people, they just don’t seem to exist anymore. Falling in love is not the necessity for being in a relationship. The factors for compatibility have been severely warped. It’s not the passion that counts anymore. Hell, I don’t think passion even exists in this society. Being in a relationship is a rather logical thing to do. Because who will Heimlich manoeuvre you when something gets stuck in your throat. Or that you will be raped if you are not walking with a man. This seems more and more like a Sharia-oriented society. And oh, there is another thing for the new couples. If they get into fights too often or encounter unresolvable conflicts, then they will be “assigned a child. Because that always helps”. When I heard this line in the film, I was taken aback by the brutal honesty that the director chose to display through his dingy characters and flat lines!

Why does everything have to be so planned and mechanical? When did we start finding the logic behind the idea of love and relationships? And how much farther are we going to get in our quest of redefining the basics of a couple. From all that we see in this film, one thing is pretty clear. Everyone has been quite conditioned in the ways of the world. Everyone agrees that they should have some common factor, no matter how ridiculous, if they are to be in a relationship. People have to inflict physical and emotional abuse on themselves to fake a relationship, but they can’t fake liking a common thing together. For example, couldn’t John just go up to the Girl with the Nosebleeds and ask her to lie together so that they can both be in a couple and be released from the fear of turning into an animal? It was because they themselves believed that something common is necessary! Even the Heartless Woman conforms to this idea and poses a threat to David once she realises he has been lying to her. Even she is conditioned, in some way!

The fact that people are being conditioned is also apparent from the way the children behave in this film. When David arrives at the yacht where John is spending time with his newfound family, he discloses John’s lies to the woman. In response to this, “the assigned daughter” responds with a knife in her hand, asking her mother to kill the man. Truth be told, this was the first time I saw someone showing true emotions about anything in this film. In our world, this would be taken as the sign of a psycho in making. And perhaps that is what is happening to the world. Devoid of emotions, devoid of love, the world is slowly changing into heartless people. The Heartless Woman is a shining trailer of the what’s next for the world.

The conditioning is not limited just to the people in the Hotel. Even the loners, who spend their time hiding from the society, as fugitives, have the thought ingrained in their head that without similarity there is no love. David falls in love with the Short-Sighted Woman because they share the common trait of short-sightedness. But, later when the Loner Leader blinds the Short-Sighted Woman, the common link joining the two of them is severed. The woman strongly believes that she doesn’t have a future with David now because they have lost common grounds. She harbours feelings for him and wants him to spend time with her and play games with her, yet, she believes that it isn’t logical for them to be together anymore.  Even after being in a relationship with him for quite some time, even after getting to know him better than anyone else, she decides to let go of the relationship, the moment she loses her sight. Even when David decides to continue with their plan of running away, anyway, he tries to find any other common thing between them. It is just so necessary for both of them to find something. Can’t they just make something up to fool the society? Why can’t mutual love be the only thing tying them? Why does David need to poke a knife into his eyes to be able to be with her?

The logic behind this is acceptance. We, humans, crave a lot of things and acceptance from the society is one of those things. And in that, we don’t care if we have to spend the rest of our life with a person we don’t even like. Passion isn’t an important factor for being in a relationship. Even love isn’t an important factor, either! The impassivity, the detachedness and the dryness of the personalities of the characters and the way they deliver their lines emphasize on the passionless behaviour of the people!

The Vision Behind Short-Sightedness

The first half of the film showed the obsession of the society with coupling. And while everyone wants to end up with someone, not everyone gets to have that. Some make their peace with it and get turned into an animal, like the best friend of the Girl with the Nosebleeds, there are others who are terrified of the idea, like John. Even David seems to be at peace with him turning into an animal. The fact that he has given a lot of thought to what animal he wants to be. says that he has considered the possibility of not being able to find someone for himself within 45 days. When he sees John smash his nose in order to be with a woman, he asks him if it’s worth it. John lays down different possibilities in front of him and implies that hurting yourself from time to time is better than turning into an animal. Even at that time, David seems to think that turning into an animal is better.

However, as his days in the Hotel begin to deplete, he realises that staying human is a better option after all. So, following in the footsteps of John, he decides to pair himself up with a woman by faking her defining characteristic. This would have worked quite well in his favour if he had given it a proper thought and chosen a better woman. Turns out, short-sightedness was David’s defining character, after all!

It was his short-sightedness in making decisions that defined some big changes in his life. His first short-sightedness was him not being able to read himself. He thought that once his time ended in the Hotel he would have no problem in becoming an animal. But, by the end, he realised that he didn’t want it. If he had thought out things from the start, if he had given proper thought to it even halfway through his time in the Hotel, he would’ve had a lot more success in procuring a partner. For most of the time, we see him lying around, sitting and observing, not really taking part in anything, not trying to do something about his situation. Unlike John, who knew from the very first day that he was not turning into an animal. This was David’s first short-sighted decision.

The next thing that happened was really the worst decision of his life. He decided to pair himself with the Heartless Woman! How in the world did he ever think about spending the rest of his life with her? Perhaps, he wasn’t aware of the extent to which she could be cruel. But, he had heard about her ruthlessness, the way she hunted the loners. Shouldn’t he have rather kept her as his last option, and thought about other women first. For instance, the Biscuit Woman was right in front of him. Like, literally! She sat next to him on the bus and tried to make a conversation with him. She clearly wanted to hook up with him and, in all honesty, she didn’t seem like a terrible woman. She just seems tired of trying to find someone for herself, tired of failing, and scared of being turned into an animal. Who knows, if David had decided to choose her over the Heartless Woman, the Biscuit Woman would have shown a better side of herself. Above everything else, she knew Bob the dog and seemed to have compassion as she gave David some biscuits to feed Bob. So, yeah, that poor woman would have been a whole lot better than the woman who gets bored watching people die. At least Bob would be alive. Poor Bob!

David wasn’t the only short-sighted person in the film. The woman who he falls in love with, i.e., Rachel Weisz’s character, is also short-sighted. This is actually what becomes a compatibility factor for the two of them. Due to their conditioning, there is a little thing in their mind that goes off when they realise that they have common traits. And they really do! Just like David, the Short-Sighted woman doesn’t give much thought to things. She keeps a diary and writes about the whole thing, her meeting with David, their relationship and their plan to escape to the city, everything goes into the diary. She had been living with the loners for a while and she knew the consequences that would follow if their relationship was discovered. Still, she put it all down, word for word in her diary. The narration that we hear from the beginning of the film is all being read from her diary. She had jotted down a lot of details and had expressed her feelings towards David in quite an elaborate manner. She even wrote the secret language that they had developed, and about the places that David wanted to go to the Mediterranean. This was her short-sightedness, writing everything down as it is. And then her diary was found and everything went south from there. Did you notice that the narration stopped after the diary was found?

The Other Side of the Moon

There are two sides of a coin, and there are two sections in this dystopian society. While being in a couple is a lawful thing here, being single forces you to be a fugitive. But, there are a group of people who defy the society and its rules and live in the forest as single people. These people know the lies that the relationships are built on and they know that the Hotel and its purpose is just a big sham. The couples that live there don’t really love each other. And this is what they do when they attack the Hotel. They don’t intend to kill anyone, or harm anyone, or destroy the building. Their leader (Lea Seydoux) knows that destroying the relationships, revealing the truth, will be more effective than any physical harm. And that is exactly what she does with the Hotel Manager and her husband. She hands him a gun and makes him pull the trigger. Except, there is no bullet in it. She discloses the true nature of their relationship, their “love”, and leaves them to deal with the consequences. She leaves them to decide whether they can live with a person who doesn’t value them, who doesn’t love them. Obviously, couples are going to break up and the point will be proven.

This makes one think if the Loners are the kind of people who are holding on the true intellect of the society. If they are the ones who should be in charge because they clearly understand that the relationships in the world are nothing more than a farce. However, if the people in charge are fascist, then the Loners aren’t really presenting themselves as a model society. Like there is no place for singles in the city, there is no place for couples with the Loners. If the City is on the one end of the spectrum, the Loners are on the other, farthest end. They allow the things that weren’t allowed in the Hotel, for e.g., masturbation. But, they do not allow the things that were allowed in the Hotel, for e.g., dancing together. If you even flirt with one another, you will be punished with the Red Kiss. And don’t even imagine what the punishment of the Red Intercourse entails!

Again, if one chooses to be a single person, they have to stick to it for the rest of their life. They don’t have the luxury of changing their minds, if and when, they find the right person! It has to be one thing or another. Black or white. And this is one of the best things about the film. While we are continuously vexed by people to find a person to settle down with, as singles we find faults in the people who are in a relationship. We continuously compare our situation with theirs, we revel in our freedom even if we sometimes feel lonely, and if one of our single friends gets into a relationship, we consider him/her out of our “sacred singles society”. Alright, maybe, this ousting isn’t that severe, but don’t you tell me that you haven’t felt the pang of jealousy when you are single and your friend is coupled. It is a basic human emotion. It is natural and it is okay until it is contained.

The society in ‘The Lobster’ is distinctly demarcated into two things. You can be one or the other. There is no in-between. The director brings out this fact by contrasting the erratic tone of story-telling with the monotonous tone of the society. The mood of the audience wavers constantly, from one scene to another. One moment, we are laughing at something and in other, we are absolutely disgusted by what just happened. One moment, everything is lucid as a polished mirror, and in the other, we are baffled by what we see.

The beauty of this film is that it is not in the least like the characters and the society that it portrays. It is sporadic in its story-telling and ebbs and flows, posing one question after another. In its purest form, ‘The Lobster’ is a mirror. It is an exercise of self-evaluation. You see this film for the kind of person that you are. There is no fixed moral of the story here. It differs for everyone. The director doesn’t tell you what this film is about. Instead, he asks you, what do you think this is about? Is it about love? Is it about making decisions? Is it a commentary on how vain the society is, how flawed modern relationships are? Is it about individuality? Is it about survival? Or is it just some stupid film that doesn’t make a pennyworth’s sense?

No matter how definitive the nature of society is in this film, the questions that it raises have no fixed answer. David’s world contains limited choices and grounded perspectives that can’t be swayed. And by telling his story, Lanthimos asks us the questions that bring out the differences and dissimilarities in us, and more importantly, he wants us to embrace that.

Is Love Blind, Or Are You?

One of the most staggering scenes in the film was its ending. After he has handled the Loner leader, David runs away with the Blind Woman. They end up in a diner where he looks at her one last time before he asks for a steak knife and goes to the washroom to blind himself. We see him bring the knife up to his eyes, but before we can actually watch him do it, or not do it, the camera cuts to the place where the Blind Woman is waiting for him. The camera lingers over her, which seems just too long, giving the idea that David has been away for quite some time, and making us question whether he is actually coming back.

So, after all this debacle, the big question is, does he do it, or not?

The motive of the unresolved ending is to probe the audience’s mindset. Put yourself in David’s situation and think, what would you do? Because it’s not about what kind of a person David is. It’s about what kind of a person you are.

There are just so many possibilities when it comes to that. One, perhaps he did blind himself. Maybe that’s why the camera went black before the credits rolled. And was that the sound of the sea that we heard before the music started to play. If yes, then this could mean that David and his partner finally went on that vacation in the Mediterranean. The other possibility is that he couldn’t do it. Blinding oneself is a very cruel act. Bashing your nose on to something is a different thing, but cutting your eyes out, that’s just a bit too much. Maybe, such thoughts started to take hold in his head and maybe, David decided to not do it. He ran away.

The third and a more ‘common ground’ possibility could be that he faked being blind. He decided to not do it, but he still wanted to be with her. So, he decided to go back and tell her that he did it, but he actually didn’t. How would she know, she is blind right? And if David really does love her, he doesn’t need to convince himself of their compatibility through such trivial things. Maybe they’ll find something similar between them later in life, but a lie will do for now.

There is one other possibility that comes from the first one. If he did decide to blind himself and poked himself with the knife, it is possible that the pain would have been too much for him to handle and he could have fainted. No one knew what he was doing in there and the diner seemed pretty empty, so there is a faint chance of anyone going in the bathroom. So, if no one attended to him, it is possible that he bled to death!

Now, what do you think happened? You choose.

Why A Lobster?

One could say that Lanthimos has created a rather clichéd story here. A dystopian society, a forbidden love, all the hurdles and the wicked witch! The hero’s love is not shaken by the heroine’s blindness. His love perseveres and it conquers. So, when we think about what he did do in the end, we have to ask ourselves what his driving factor was. Was it love? Or was it the fear of loneliness? Was he afraid of being turned into an animal? Did he not want to let go of her because he feared that he will never find another compatible partner and so he held on to her? That he didn’t want to be alone anymore. Or afraid!

Let’s rewind a bit and go back to his choice of turning into a lobster. Why did he choose that animal? He mentions that lobsters live long, they are blue-blooded and are fertile for the entire life. Also, lobsters’ mate for life. (Thank you, ‘FRIENDS’ for illuminating us with this fact.)

When David got married, he thought he was mating for life. But then, his wife found love with someone else and he wasn’t a lobster, in a metaphorical sense, anymore. Perhaps their marriage wasn’t even real in the first place. Perhaps it was built on the common trait and that’s why when she found something more substantial with someone else, she decided to leave David. So, when he finally finds love with the Blind Woman, he wants to hold on to that. He wants to mate for life. But, the question is, is he ready to sacrifice what it takes to be with her? Can he be the lobster for her?

All These Small Things

Alrighty, we have analysed most, major things about this story. Still, a handful remains that I really can’t let go of.

First off, what was that opening scene? Why does that woman drive out to the field to shoot a donkey? It didn’t make sense at the moment, but after watching the whole film if feels like that donkey must have been the partner of that woman. And then he/she decided to separate. That person couldn’t find another partner in 45 days and was turned into a donkey. Now, it must have been a nasty break-up, or perhaps that donkey cheated on her or something, but apparently, this woman wasn’t really happy with that donkey person. So, once she found out where he was released after being converted into an animal, she found him out and killed him. How did she know whether this donkey was the same person or not? Well, the defining characteristic stays even after you have been converted, doesn’t it?

Next, what is the animal that no one wants to be? Well, this is just impossible to answer. One certainly wouldn’t want to be that donkey! But, I think this detail was deliberately left out in the film. What animal do you think is the worst? That’s the answer. And no answer is right or wrong.

 

And now, about that poster. It is a very symbolic poster in fact. And on first glance, it seems a bit confusing, but after watching the film, it becomes a bit clearer. The place for the partner is empty because if David did decide to blind himself, he can’t see her anymore. He can touch her, feel her, so he is aware of the embrace. But, he can’t see what he is embracing. This has also been analysed as the emptiness and the dryness we see throughout the film. Also, this isn’t the only poster. There is another part to it.

You could say that these are mirror images. That both of them are now blind so they can’t see each other. But when you see the posters together, the empty space comes together in the form of a lobster’s claws. Also, did you notice how the woman’s eyes are closed and David’s eyes are open? The woman is definitely blind and she is feeling his embrace, so she closes her eyes. But, David’s eyes are wide open and there seems to be a bit of emptiness there as well. So, was that what you did David? Did you fake your blindness and continued to be with her? And now it’s haunting you. Now, you don’t feel it anymore?

Read More in Explainers: Get Out | The Witch | The Shining

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