The Lobster certainly qualifies as a movie—er, film?—that I wouldn’t normally watch.
When I’m on planes, I try to watch movies in different languages or genres than the ones I tend to pick up off the shelf or pay to see in theaters. I watch a lot of mainstream children’s animated films and Hollywood action flicks. They’re usually pretty sparkly and happy.
In contrast, The Lobster was a bleak dystopia that had a kind of a science-fiction premise but absolutely zero sci-fi eye candy. The movie exists to make us feel weird about rules governing relationships. Ours as well as the ones on screen.
The premise is that the government does not permit people to be single. Those who separate or whose spouses die are sent to a kind of dating boot camp at a hotel where, if they do not find a ‘suitable’ partner in 45 days, they are turned into the animal of their choice (by means of some scientific process whose results we see but which is largely outside the scope of the film). The name of the movie is the animal that the protagonist wishes to become if he is unable to find a partner.
Parts of the movie seemed (and were probably intended to seem) disturbing. The ending is ambiguous, and felt (and was probably intended to feel) unsatisfying. The movie was interesting in that it was genuinely, uniquely weird (intentionally absurd, in fact), but I wouldn’t recommend it unless your tolerance for grotesqueness is a lot higher than mine, or you’ve got at least five or ten hours of time to pass on a long-haul international flight… and something cheerful lined up to watch next.
For a plot summary with SPOILERS, keep reading.
My Summary of The Lobster
The protagonist is a solemn man who looks vaguely like Ned Flanders whose wife has recently died. His brother has been turned into a dog and accompanies him to the hotel.
The compatibility of couples seems to consist entirely of identical surface characteristics such as “has a beautiful smile”. One guy fakes a susceptibility to nosebleeds so that he can be matched with a woman whose defining characteristic it is.
Our protagonist decides to try to pair himself with a woman whose defining characteristic is that she’s heartless. When he approaches her, she pretends to choke on a martini olive; when he feigns indifference towards her apparent crisis, she decides he might be a match. However, when she kills his dog (his brother) by kicking him repeatedly, he cannot pretend to be indifferent. He overcomes the woman and drags her to the transformation room; we don’t know what he changes her into. Then he flees into the woods.
Guests are permitted to stay human a day longer for each renegade single person they tranquilize and capture while hunting in the woods; our protagonist is now one of the hunted.
The singles are led by a woman who imposes punishments for any kind of romantic attachment. Nevertheless, our protagonist develops feelings for another of the singles, with whom he shares the characteristic of shortsightedness and with whom he communicates using an invented secret language composed of gestures. On trips to the city for supplies, they pose as a couple.
The singles execute a raid on the hotel. Their attack consists of alienating the couples there by exposing some critical flaw or deception in the relationship. Our protagonist tells the nosebleed-prone woman that her partner does not actually get nosebleeds naturally. Meanwhile, the leader of the singles convinces the hotel manager to shoot his wife; the results, when the gun is found to be intentionally empty, can be imagined.
The leader of the singles detects the protagonist’s romantic attachment. Promising to correct the woman’s shortsightedness, she takes her to a city doctor and has her blinded instead. The star-crossed lovers resolve to overcome this difficulty (they are no longer both shortsighted!) and run away together. At the end of the movie, we see our protagonist standing over a bathroom sink at a restaurant holding a steak knife, apparently intending to blind himself. Maybe he blinds himself with the knife, or maybe he decides it’s impossible and abandons her.
An article I read suggests that he could, possibly, decide to pretend (to everyone or just to his lover) that he is blind. Such an ending isn’t really an ending so much as the start of another story. The world depicted is so bleak that a suitable ending to this story would need to show the protagonist destroyed in some heartbreaking way. Leaving him and his mate unnecessarily blind would be one way of doing that; leaving them both alone, liable to be captured and turned into animals, would be another.