The Lobster: Greek Myths and Lonely Men
The Lobster is the kind of movie you're going to need to see twice.
The Lobster (2016)
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.
Three times. Possibly four. You're going to need the appropriate amount of viewings to sort it all out. One, to feel uncomfortable. Two, to understand why you feel that way. Repeat ad nauseam until some sort of cathartic experience is had (*note - it may never come).
Yorgos Lanthimos co-wrote and directed The Lobster,
his first English language feature with mainstream Hollywood actors (Collin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, etc). Filmed in Ireland, it's a true international production, with support from the Irish Film Board, British Film Institute, and Greek Film Center, to name a few.
Its influences are wide-ranging: from the absurdism of Harold Pinter to the wooden, distanced delivery of Bertolt Brecht. The Lobster is as strangely funny as any Wes Anderson work, full of quirks, surrealism, and an odd sweetness. But at the end of the day, this is a Greek production, by a Greek writer/director - and it's impossible not to associate it with classic Greek philosophy, and perhaps the best stories ever told - Greek myths.
Love is the search for our other half.
So says Plato. In The Symposium, he decrees:
"Humans were originally created with four arms, four legs, and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves."
The Lobster lampoons this idea sincerely and severely. The saddest single people willingly check themselves into a resort where they will be turned into an animal if they have not found a partner by the end of their stay. It should be mentioned that the animal-changing process sounds approximately like a very painful mangling, and that resort activities include hunting potential lovers/competition like prey in the woods out back.
That David (Colin Farrell) finds his match is not surprising. In Greek mythology, great feats are often accomplished by the most unlikely of men (and the most unattached) - but so is the extreme tragedy that befalls them after.
In this film, the threat of becoming a lobster is only the beginning. Have you seen a production of Oedipus Rex? Remember that time Athena got mad and blinded Tiresias? Yeah, keep those in mind when you're curling up like an awkward snail into the back of your theatre seat. Finding love isn't easy - and per The Lobster, it isn't fun, exciting, warm, or endearing either. It's a brutal, mildly commercialized war to find your other half and get the fuck out of dodge.
The Defining Characteristic
In The Symposium, Plato also notes that "harmony is a symphony." Would-be couples in The Lobster are matched accordingly, based on their defining characteristic; a limp, a lust for violence, a short-sightedness. The concept that alikeness binds us - completes our two-headed, four-legged body - is preserved in this method. But what happens when the person you desire doesn't exactly "match-up?"
"An agreement of disagreements while they disagree there cannot be; you cannot harmonize that which disagrees."
-Plato, The Symposium
Disagreement is a really kind way of putting what happens to those in The Lobster who would violate the terms of classic love. I won't spoil it for you. But seriously, read up on your Tiresias/Oedipus myths. And no - I don't think love is blind. Not anymore.
Modern men are lonely.
That's the real overarching theme in this work. We meet some interesting women, all partnerless, as well, but still not necessarily lonely. I wouldn't go so far as to call them content, but we're distanced from them. They certainly don't seem as desperate.
As a viewer, we're invited to spend much of our 118 minutes with a group of three male friends - getting to know their plights, their insecurities, their very worst faults. We see them punished for actions taken out of loneliness (*see: the toaster scene). Devious with each other in hopes of liberating themselves from its life-ending depths.
Looking back at those Greek myths, I'm reminded of how decidedly un-lonely our heroes are. Odysseus, Hercules, Sisyphus - they spend much of their lives alone; fighting, winning honor, and strength, and godliness. It's their wives who sit at home, threatening to throw themselves into the crashing waves of the sea.
In The Lobster, the myth is narrated by a woman (Rachel Weisz). The two central settings (the hotel, the woods) are run by women. Women who are quite sure of themselves. Women who don't, in all honesty, seem lonely at all.
John C. Reilly and The Toaster - A truly unique, yet direct, way of dealing with those singletons who might "love themselves," if you know what I mean. It's the casual nature of the whole punishment that burns this three minutes into your brain.
*The Lobster is in theaters NOW.
If You Like it, Watch (+ Read):
*Affiliate links ahead! Full disclosure at end of post*
The Fountain (2006):
Speaking of myths, here's one that tries to create its own. This is a lot of people's least favorite Aronofsky movie, but I'm partial to its epic strangeness. Rachel Weisz stars here, too, as both a lover and existential spirit.
If you're here for Colin Farrell, stop by this Irish fairytale about a fisherman who pulls a woman up in his net. The selkie (mermaid) myth, come to life. It's a gorgeous, romantic film (and totally unlike The Lobster in every other way).
The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter
If you haven't been blessed with the opportunity to see a production of a Pinter play (or even if you have), I highly suggest picking up a copy of The Birthday Party. If there's any other script I think The Lobster is like, it's this 1957 full-length play. Its dialogue is matter-of-fact, yet everything about the situation is absurd.
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