The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ surreal, absurd romance, is so dark and so funny. The fact that it’s so funny makes it downright bleak and the fact that it’s so dark makes it downright hilarious. The marriage of unsettling and uproarious can be jarring. It boasts scenarios that are inarguably comedic under circumstances that are viscerally disturbing, presenting the viewer with a choice, a compromise. To laugh is to lean into the darkness of the film’s circumstances and fall beneath their shadow. To pull away from the darkness of those circumstances is to perhaps free yourself of the moral blemish of laughing at them at the cost of the sharp humor they provide.
In this way, when it comes to The Lobster, form mirrors function.
Compromise is everywhere. It’s necessary for friendship, romance or citizenship. Being a member of any society requires compromise, sometimes in the form of taxes, sometimes in the form of finding a partner under threat of being sent to a singles retreat in a hotel for 45 days and being turned into an animal if you’re unable to pair up by the end of your stay.
The Lobster deals with the latter. It provides a look at two distinct cultural extremes, both of which seek governance over the personal affairs of the individual and wield strict penalties to be carried out on the human body, be it transformation or mutilation. The film wades through societal ideals, these formless, weightless ideas we all subscribe to, and the very real, very corporeal penalties for breaking them.
And yet even still The Lobster is a movie that doesn’t condemn compromise so much as explore it. In The Lobster, as in life, not every compromise is a deal with the devil. We do things we aren’t interested in because a friend or significant other wants to do them, and in turn we have friendship and support. We give eight hours of our time a day to tasks that may be wholly unfulfilling and in turn we get paid. We conduct ourselves according to some communally agreed upon structure of values and taboos and in turn we belong. One could make a decent argument that a relationship and a compromise are the same thing.
But good or bad we can often enter into compromises without even realizing it. The characters in The Lobster aren’t struck by the absurdity of their situation. To them, their 45 days in a hotel is just the way things work. Our protagonist isn’t brought there in chains or at gunpoint. He just shows up, because he’s single and that’s what single people do.
The ridiculousness of the compromises made throughout The Lobster call into question the more grounded compromises we make in the real world. What have we agreed to? What contracts have we entered into blindly? How much of our day to day life is an inherent facet of existing versus an extension of some invisible network of compromises? If a movie about relationships in our world existed in the world of The Lobster, what would the paired-off denizens say of the compromises we make?
For those with an appetite for the quirky, The Lobster is as thought-provoking as it is dark and as dark as it is hilarious.