Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015) is a dark comedy set in a not-too-distant future wherein unattached adults are shipped off to a government-mandated singles’ retreat and given 45 days to find a mate. If unsuccessful, the singleton is turned into an animal and released into the woods. With recognizable architecture and clothing but off-putting social manners and customs, the world of The Lobster would fall somewhere between Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973). Considered one of the weirdest films of 2015, the title of The Lobster is significant on multiple levels.
The most clear-cut explanation is that the lobster is the protagonist’s animal of choice if he is unable to find a partner. Informed that the majority of guests choose dogs or horses, David (a mustachioed, dad-bodded Colin Farrell) answers that he would want to be turned into a lobster. His own brother was unsuccessful a few years prior and was turned into a dog. Fellow guest The Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) says he’d want to be a parrot, while The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) refuses to choose an animal and picks apart both David’s and The Lisping Man’s answers: “they’ll catch you and put you into a pot of boiling water” and “you’ll lisp even as an animal.”
In the explanation he delivers with detachment to the hotel manager (a hilariously deadpan Olivia Colman), David cites reasons including the lobster's cold blood and hard exoskeleton but manages to skip over one of the creature’s more noted behaviors, one made famous by Friends - lobsters purportedly mate for life. Whether this is an intentional omission on David’s part is debatable. Either he could be oblivious to that element of lobster sociology, or he does not want to openly admit that even as an animal without societal pressure he would still want a life-mate. The latter idea becomes the more intriguing when you consider the turn of events in the film’s last act.
(SPOILER) After David escapes the property and becomes a fugitive, he joins a band of other misfit single people and stumbles into a blossoming relationship with Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). It’s only when David is off-the-grid and playing by rogue rules that he finds what he had been searching for: love and a possible soulmate.
On the symbolic level, the lobster also holds more general thematic significance as a water-faring, cold-blooded, hard-bodied creature. Shot in County Kerry (on the west coast of Ireland), the film takes place in an unspecified, chilly, seacoast location. The area’s rocky-rough, gray-soaked terrain suits the turmoils of the retreat’s residents. These are not the warm waters of Tahiti with love and lust for pleasure’s sake, but the cold and bitter clashing tides of searching for court-mandated companionship on a deadline. Hardened by the atmosphere and the prospect of being turned into beasts, the characters have developed a shell. They are cool, harsh, and direct: lobster-like.
In this world of life-or-death (or technically human-or-animal) speed-dating, any signs of desperation, clinginess, or earnestness are interpreted as weaknesses. The aptly-named Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) is favored by the community over Biscuit Woman (a charmingly frazzled Ashley Jensen). Ironically enough, the fear of showing basic human feelings leads characters to be stripped of their humanity - both figuratively (in that they avoid empathy in the animalistic race to survive via pairing with a rationally suitable mate, instead of waiting for a real - albeit intangible - connection) and quite literally (in that those who do show weakness and are unable to find a mate wind up turned into animals). Forced to mate systematically, these humans shed that element of caring that separates man from beast. The strongest pick off the weakest in order to further the human race, which is sectioned off into couples and family units. Did I mention that the lobster in desperate times will turn to cannibalism, picking on the weakest for the good of the strongest?
The title's significance on all these levels, from the literal to the figurative to the D.H.M. (“Deep Hidden Meaning”), helps illuminate important elements of the story. The choice resonates both on viewing and after the credits roll.