Compromises, or, The Lobster

The Lobster

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.

The Man, or, True Detective Season Two

Just a couple of happy campers.

Just a couple of happy campers.

True Detective’s second season was built on the Shakespearian adage “all the world’s a stage.” Its four protagonists were assigned a part to play long before we the audience ever met them, a role that they can never embody, an impossible ideal of masculinity that dares to be aspired to.

The Man.

True Detective Season Two holds up the myth of masculinity that so often drives the behavior of the modern man and in no uncertain terms shouts “this is not working.”

It’s hardly clearer than when Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro visits his father. Troubled over his difficult relationship with his own son, Ray sits beside his old man, who stews in regret and vice, before the televised black and white alter of Kirk Douglas hocking the masculine Hollywood nonsense that has two generations contorted into impossible poses as they desperately try to fit into a fictional mold they can never match.

Ray’s life becomes defined by a moment in which he pursues vengeance that isn’t his to have, but no person, no culture, no natural law would dare deny him. He commits a sin that knocks his entire existence off course because that is the character he is meant to play. He does what his father would have done, what a Kirk Douglas character would have done, what he is instilling in his son should be done. He does what The Man would do and his entire existence is derailed for it.

Everybody Loves Raymond

Everybody Loves Raymond

Yet despite seeping through generation after broken generation The Man somehow remains undeniable. Paul Woodrugh doggedly clings to the ideal at the expense of his own personal happiness and mental health. He possesses no shortage of evidence that The Man is not a character he can ever be happy portraying and yet he chases the myth like a greyhound after a lure, perpetually behind, sprinting just to keep up. It’s telling that Woodrugh seems most at ease in the moments he is least burdened by having to act his societal part: guns blazing, fighting for his life. Staying alive while outnumbered and outgunned proves a far more possible task for Woodrugh than becoming The Man he thinks he’s supposed to be.

Frank Semyon chases a similar lure, some nebulous, undefined state of achievement that’s only concrete characteristic seems to be that it is consistently beyond his current circumstances. Time and time again Frank has the opportunity to leave well enough alone and settle into a comfortable role, but settling is not what The Man does. The Man does not lie down, he presses on, The Man ascends via whatever cobbled-together means he can concoct.

Womanhood provides Ani Bezzerides no sanctuary from the toxicity of The Man. Her life is spent playing the character that could have saved her from a bleak childhood trauma. She lives every moment as if the next could see her brought back in time to relive the pivotal moment of her girlhood because what happened to her as a child would never have happened to The Man.

One way or another all four characters learn that the role they’re aspiring to does not work. The Man is not a person. The Man is not a human being. The Man is a fiction, a two-dimensional character unattainable beyond the eye of a camera. The Man doesn’t live a complete life. The Man is not fulfilled. The Man is not secure. The Man is make-believe.

The waning moments of True Detective’s season finale are quiet and hopeful. The Man has taken its toll, but there’s an understanding arrived upon. An understanding that The Man is an old way, a fading religion from a dying age, and in the season’s final moments there is the spark of potential for something new.

Though the imminent protagonists of True Detective’s presumed third season likely won’t get the memo.