In the surreal world of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ long-anticipated English-language feature, The Lobster, if you find yourself single for any reason you will be checked into a stately, if sterile, seaside hotel. There, you have 45 days to find a romantic partner, or you’ll be turned into an animal of your choice and released into the woods.
If your dread of a gruesome-sounding transplant surgery or the slim odds of surviving in the wild aren’t enough to lay on the pressure at a dancehall meet-cute, consider too that guests at this hotel must declare and seek out a partner based on one “defining characteristic.” These range from good, to bad, to arbitrary: One guest has great hair, one gets chronic nosebleeds, another loves butter cookies. Colin Farrell’s everyman David, the hotel’s newest tenant, is nearsighted. Hotel staff put on crude educational skits that warn against the dangers of living alone ,and they also provide simulated, unfulfilling clothes-on sex to encourage guests to couple off. (A no-masturbation policy is strictly enforced.) Lanthimos’ binary-bound police state is an apt satire of our algorithm-obsessed, swipe-right dating era—where romantic prospects are collapsed, at long last, into a single, compulsory bullet point.
It’s easy to read The Lobster’s animal-transformation premise as a parable for society’s oppressive belief in the civilizing function of marriage. After John C. Reilly’s hapless, lisping character is caught with a picture of a naked woman on a horse, the hotel manager (a hilariously stern Olivia Colman) tells him that he ought to have been ogling not the woman but the horse, who was once “a lonely man” just like him. But I thought of one colleague’s investigation into online identity culture—“spirit animals,” curated listicles, personality quizzes, and the narcissistic escapism we seek (as in romance) when we project ourselves onto some fantastical hypothetical.
The nuts and bolts of actually choosing an animal existence is bleak business. Perhaps you settle on becoming a dog (most guests opt for canines, we’re told), in which case you will assuredly live 12 short years as a sentient house pet. Predatory animals are put in the zoo, delicious ones are eaten, and once you’re an animal your options for love are even narrower. And yet Lanthimos’ delight in his own conceit results in a charmingly spirited affair. An expired hotel guest in the form of a flamingo or a camel will occasionally roam into the frame—The Lobster’s equivalent of those once optimistic losers returned in the penultimate tell-all episode of every Bachelor or Bachelorette season. And David is definitely a gamer. Shortsighted though he may be, David’s choice of animal, the titular lobster, is a sturdy pick for anyone who values dignity and companionship: They’re blue-blooded like aristocrats, he says, they can live to be 100 years old, and they stay fertile all their lives.
I’d like to think my defining characteristic would be some ineffable quality—wouldn’t we all—but according to the Lanthimosian ethic, I’d probably be marked by my freckles. As for an animal, I’d choose a crane—they live long, they’re careful and contemplative, at home with themselves in beautiful watery surroundings, and they command a kind of prehistoric sense of awe. Plus, it would surely be a missed opportunity not to pick an animal that can fly. In honor of The Lobster’s dark, irresistible provocations, I’ve asked Slate staff to consider their fate were they ever to check in to Lanthimos’ strange hotel.
Is it too superficial to say that my defining characteristic is my curly red hair? Because if I were staying in a hotel of unlovable freaks, that’s probably what people would know me by. I would choose to be turned into a whale, despite the pain of the surgery, because whales seem super chill and smart. —L.V. Anderson, associate editor
My single defining characteristic would be my many-armed distractibility. My animal would be a pacific giant octopus, because they are solitary creatures, and I believe in leaning in to your failures. —Jacob Brogan, technology and culture writer
I long to spend my days ambling across alpine pastures, climbing craggy peaks and picking off food from nervous, inexperienced hikers. My repressed desires to live near mountains and eat garbage all day makes me an ideal mountain goat. —Evan Mackinder, audience engagement editor
Defining characteristic: deep and abiding personal anxiety (says the Jewish guy from the Upper West Side). Animal of choice: Grizzly bear. Apex predator. Gets to take long naps and ambling walks through the woods. And salmon sashimi is delicious. —Jordan Weissmann, senior business and economics correspondent
I want to be a shark. —Ava Lubell, counsel
Maybe a goose because I’ve been told I’m freakishly social. And relieving oneself outdoors is pretty nice so it would be fun to feel liberated to do so wherever—including on some rich person’s big front lawn. —Jocelyn Frank, podcast producer
My defining characteristic is my small stature, which belies my ability to crush my nemeses with unceremonious haste. I would be a seahorse because I wish to live in a world where men get pregnant, fish swim upright, and cuteness is compatible with body armor. —Christina Cauterucci, staff writer
I am a mess of anxiety, barely able to get out of bed in the mornings. I am also tiny and act ferocious to cover it all up. I am obviously a chihuahua. —Helaine Olen, columnist
I like traveling long distances but am also a homebody who enjoys routine. Also into cold weather, rocky coasts, and seafood. Arctic tern. —Joshua Keating, staff writer
I would be a sea otter, because some people think I’m an adorable monogamist whereas others think I’m a sociopathic necrophile. —Gabriel Roth, Slate Plus editor
My two defining qualities, working often at cross purposes, are excitable curiosity and extreme sensitivity. I would therefore be a particularly rapt and susceptible pangolin (shoutout to Marianne Moore) that persisted in nosing prickly plants and leftover embers and then had to curl up in an armored ball for a while. —Katy Waldman, words correspondent
Alligator. Someone here has to be aspirational. They live even longer in zoos, they swim in a warm pool all day, and their bad manners are a feature, not a defect. —Jeffrey Bloomer, associate editor and video producer
My defining quality is that I suffer from both a compulsive need to know about other people/the world and a deep social anxiety, which collide within me like two opposing waves, culminating in a physical twitch I experience in my right shoulder. I am a squirrel. —Rachel Gross, editorial assistant
I have been and will likely always be an angsty adolescent giraffe. —Lisa Larson-Walker, associate art director
Koala, because the illusion of cuddliness masks a brittle antipathy to all social activities and also a bottomless laziness. Also I suspect that clinging to trees as I get ever higher on eucalyptus leaves would be my fate whether I die as a human or marsupial. —Dahlia Lithwick, staff writer
My single defining characteristic is my sloth. That would also be my animal. —Dan Kois, culture editor