Shoulder blades cut into the water, propelled by a water-laden push against the side of the pool. I stare back at the expansive ceiling as my arms alternate into view. One lifts up, gliding above my face. The other arm slices back into the water. My head is partially submerged in the muffled, liquid sounds of other swimmers. For a moment, it’s easy to drift from reality, back into the fantastical world of The Lobster.

I recall the Nosebleed Woman and her backstrokes across the hotel pool. The Limping Man, splashing towards her, prompting a conversation on favourite swimming strokes. They both think breaststroke is great. “It’s excellent exercise for the back.” And, lo! His nose is bleeding.

It’s clear they have plenty in common. A match made in surreal heaven.

The Lobster is a satirical film about love…or the fear of loneliness. While set in a dystopic time with absurd social codes, elements of the film are grounded in our very real views—both archaic and modern—on love and dating.

In The Lobster, newly single adults check into a hotel to find a new partner, seemingly determined by how much one has in common (nosebleeds, heartlessness, short-sighted vision) with the other. Should they fail to find a match within 45 days, they are transformed into an animal of choice.

Hotel Mananger

In reality, arbitrary matches are made all the time; algorithms point one individual to another at a swipe. Of course, a match in dating apps does not a relationship make. We’re far too wizened to fall for that now. However, beyond the Tinders, the Happns, the Bumbles, we seem to believe that in order to be happy, in order to live a fulfilled life, we need to be with someone. The Lobster spells this out.

There’s The Limping Man, so determined to leave the hotel as a half of a couple, he slams his nose against any hard surface to make it bleed. Sometimes a smidge of beetroot juice is enough to look the part. It seals the deal, and he and Nosebleed Woman advance to the next stage: a shared bedroom with couple-y activities like tennis. The Hotel Manager wishes them well before they leave the singles seminar. “If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children, that usually helps.”

Elsewhere, our protagonist David attempts his own desperate escape from loneliness by appealing to the Heartless Woman. He passes the first test in the hot tub, after she fakes her death and he barely flinches. His sociopathic charade works a treat…until she kills his dog (who’s actually his brother, having passed through the same hotel without finding a partner), and he can’t explain away his tears. Heartless.

In another sardonic scene, the Hotel Manager has her staff role-play hypothetical situations intended to scare the singles into pairs. The first depicts a lone person eating his dinner. He chokes, he dies alone. Re-enacted with a couple? He chokes, she performs the Heimlich manoeuvre, no one dies (alone). More disturbing is the next scenario. “Woman walks alone,” the Hotel Manager describes to her audience. Simulated is a bland, monotone sexual attack on the woman. End scene. “Woman walks with man,” the Hotel Manager offers the comparison. Simulated is a woman walking with a man. End scene. Round of applause.

Throughout, The Lobster’s dialogue is a sharp tongue against cheek (“We dance alone. That’s why we only play electronic music”). And everywhere, the film score is electrifying. Greek songstress Danai sings a beautiful folk song to a backdrop of the hunt for loners in the forest. The wild chase is slowed-down, almost thrusting Danai’s vocals to centre-stage. Later yet, the jarring sounds of Stravinsky remind you an ordinary scene isn’t. Not that the audience need be reminded. The characters and their own narratives are enough to tell you this is all wildly absurd.

And it’s the weird and wonderful tales that invade my 9-5. Before diving into the pool, I had a whole day to reflect on The Lobster. In sending an email to someone unsavoury, I thought of the Biscuit Woman’s pitiful tragedy. An insincere grin from a colleague brought to mind the woman and her self-proclaimed, “VERY beautiful smile.” The Lisping Man, The Limping Man, the Nosebleed Woman’s Best Friend… Despite applying these trifling characteristics with a heavy hand, the characters themselves are anything but flat or one-dimensional. I could easily picture short films based on each of these characters. And I would happily eat them up.

Ultimately, The Lobster sidles up to my own creative desires. Absurdist realities, driven by a mix of rich, complex characters. That it’s well acted (Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly— the entire cast, honestly) and beautifully shot almost seem secondary to me. It’s the writing and the soundtrack that have me obsessed.

Ben Whisaw, John C Reilly

I know the film isn’t for everyone. A friend fell asleep watching this in the cinemas. Released on Netflix early August, it is still rated a measly two-stars. Meanwhile, some preferred the first act in the hotel to the second act in the forest.

Indeed, The Lobster isn’t without faults. While it confronts our fear of being alone, it almost incongruously delivers a touching tale of love. The second act feels like a U-turn from the hotel’s direction. A whole new movie with a different pace. The energetic rhythm in the hotel swaps with the careful, steady strides amidst the trees. While the first act teased with guests’ background stories and what brings them to the hotel, there isn’t as much to glean from the loners as individuals. Deep in the forest is where the loners roam, existing in parallel to coupledom. In stark contrast to the hotel, loners are strictly forbidden from falling in love lest they befall heinous and sinister punishments with equally sinister-sounding names. And it is in these woodlands that David falls for the Shortsighted Woman.

David’s reigning trait is his bespectacled sight—he can hardly believe his luck at finding a woman with similar vision, which is why he is nearly driven to madness when he finds another loner speaking with her. David only becomes placated when, after forceful inspection of the loner’s eyes, he sees that the other loner has perfect vision and isn’t in fact wearing contacts. Phew. In order to ensure the Loner Leader doesn’t get a whiff of their budding romance, David and the Shortsighted Woman develop their own coded body language. A left turn of the head is a declaration of undying love. A tilt to the right screams danger. “When we make a fist and put it behind our backs it means ‘let's fuck,’” the Shortsighted Woman narrates.

If it’s only poor eyesight that unites the pair, there is no denying that his love is genuine when she is made blind. There’s a tender moment when he describes the lengths he’ll go for her, in the code they had created. A code that she can no longer see. So he recites: “I raise my left foot. I bring my elbow to my knee and tap it twice. I bring my foot to my knee and tap it three times. I lie face down, I kneel down. I touch my left check and then lie face up.”

What David proposes is incredible.

I extend my right arm and rotate my right shoulder. What David is going to do for the Shortsighted Woman is hard to swallow. My hand hits the wall. The scene tugs at the heartstrings. I bring my whole body in to hug this side of the pool. It’s nauseating at the same time. I catch my breath and am drawn back to reality, to the lap’s physical exertion, to the echoed sounds of flip-flops flip-flopping towards the exit door. How far would one go for love?