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Netflix Queue: "The Lobster" and Our Authoritarian Age

Three thoughts about THE LOBSTER just as soon as I poke my eye out with a sharp stick. (Warning, some mild spoilers may be ahead.)



• The trailer of this movie doesn’t really capture the overall dystopian vibe — you might think you’re getting an eccentric romantic comedy, something like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, but this is more of a grim LOGAN’S RUN. The conceit: Instead of aging, it’s singlehood that society abhors. Singles of a certain age — whether they get there through spinsterhood, widowership or a good old-fashioned breakup — are brought to a hotel where they’re given 45 days to find a mate … or else they’ll be turned into the animal of their choosing. Colin Farrell, our protagonist, says he’ll choose to be a lobster. “That’s a good animal,” the hotel manager tells him. Everybody else, she says, wants to be a dog. That’s why there are so many dogs in the world.

• His choice of animal aside, there are other clues that Farrell doesn’t fit in. Asked to choose between homosexual or heterosexual, he asks for a third option — but that’s one recently removed from the list of choices. Even in footwear, he’s awkwardly placed: He asks for a 44-and-a-half, only to be told there are no half sizes. Meanwhile, he and every other resident of the hotel are indoctrinated in the good of couplehood, given objects lessons in the dangers of being alone, and even forced to spend a day with one hand handcuffed behind their back in order to demonstrate that pairs (hands) work better than ones. (Farrell’s character, it should be noted, even finds a way to make this work.)

If there’s a creepy authoritarian vibe to the hotel, though, it’s mirrored in the society forming outside in the woods. That’s where the Loners exist — single people who are, quite literally, hunted by the hotel residents and rounded up. But the Loners aren’t a live-and-let-live group: They enforce their singlehood through violence, warning against even mild flirtation and, in one terrifying scene, ordering Farrell’s character to dig his own grave and begin to cover himself with dirt. (I was reminded, for some reason of Khmer Rouge tactics, of the uses of mock executions to break down prisoners.) Ferrell doesn’t fit in here either, pairing off over time with a woman played by Rachel Weisz.

• Eventually, Farrell and Weisz leave the group and make their way to the city, where they’ll be expected, by law, to be paired. But they’ve learned the lessons of their disparate societies too well, and the movie concludes with Farrell’s character preparing to do something unspeakable in order to more perfectly match with Weisz. It’s horrifying.

Maybe it’s just the mood these days, but as much as this movie seems to be how society enforces its expectations of relations upon us all, it’s also a reminder that the opposite of authoritarianism isn’t necessarily freedom, but a different, opposite, even well-meaning idea that, enforced with efficiency and ruthless violence, becomes a mirror of the thing it hates. Finding a different path, even when our instincts guide us there, is so difficult that we’d quite literally mutilate ourselves rather than live and let each other live together with even the smallest differences.

THE LOBSTER is currently available on Amazon Prime.

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