In the world of “The Lobster”, love is but a fiction and a human construct that will only doom those who believe in it. Yorgos Lanthimo’s satirical film takes place in an alternate universe where this alleged “love” and relationships stemming from it have completely warped everyone’s system of values.
To put it more plainly, the film sees love as a form of violence, an idea Scottish psychiatrist Ronald Laing wrote about extensively in his work. What used to be a force that gave us happiness and inspired us to push towards a life worth living and sharing with others has turned into a tool of control.
Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business America show on CCTV America. His analysis represents his views alone.
Of course that transformation has come about because of how the world has changed in the last few centuries. During that period, the basis of society shifted from the family to the individual. Ancient values that stressed community and brotherly love fell by the wayside, only to be replaced by ones that screamed freedom and individuality. But that eventually made us more aware of how alone we are and helped usher in a new age of anxiety in the 20th century.
To escape that isolation, we found other lonely individuals to cling onto. And somehow having that type of a relationship became our definition of ‘love’. According to another psychologist Rollo May, the emphasis on love as a solution to the predicament of human loneliness determined our self-esteem or worth, falling or rising depending on whether we have a romantic relationship or not.
I’m not saying that the above-mentioned ideas were what Lanthimos had in mind when he made “The Lobster” but I think they approximate the movie’s central themes.
To survive and stay human in “The Lobster’s” universe, people have to be in a relationship and in “love”. If they fail to find true love they can only remain single for six months. If they can’t find another partner after that period, they lose their right to remain a human being and will be transformed into a creature of their choice.
The protagonist of the movie, played by a very bloated Colin Farrell, chooses to be turned into a lobster should he fail to find another person to “love”.
When asked why he chose a bottom-feeding crustacean, David explains that lobsters live well beyond 100 years and stays virile for most of it. Lobsters also have lots of sex partners. The creature is the complete opposite of what he is in real life: unremarkable, alone and impotent. His wife recently left him for another man and he’s getting on in age and weight.
During this transition period all newly single individuals will have to stay at a halfway house of sorts while they look for love. Since love is what separates the winners from the losers, the competition to get a future mate is intense from the get go. It’s an extreme version of our world, where the rich, powerful and beautiful get to pick the cream of the humanity’s crop.
The film’s cynicism about relationships is so seemingly complete that in this alternate earth people choose to love others for the most superficial of reasons. For instance, one character decides to fall in love with a woman because he finds her nose bleeds endearing. David chooses Rachel Weisz’s character as a future mate because she’s short-sighted like him.
Unfortunately, I think the real world is just as cynical, if not more so, than the one the film depicts. I’ve had friends fall in so-called love with people they have nothing in common with, except maybe for a desire to get laid (aided and abetted by copious amounts of alcohol). I can’t count how many of my friends’ marriages exploded because they realized a few years and several children later that they didn’t really like who they chose as a life partner.
But ‘The Lobster’s’ world also has its version of dissidents in the “loners”. These are the people who’ve opted out of the system and chose to live alone in the wilderness. They’re viewed as less than human and targeted for eradication.
Needless to say, it’s a very novel way of population control. The loner is also subject to harsh punishment or death if they fall in love with another person as per the group’s rules.
David eventually falls in with the loners mostly because he fails to find a worthwhile mate in the real world. This is when he actually meets the short-sighted woman and falls in “love”.
They decide to run away but before they can, the leader of the loners punishes the woman by blinding her, eliminating the only reason why David fell in love with her in the first place.
Despite the setback, the couple push through with their escape. At this point in the movie, I was already exhausted from its bleakness of tone. But the end ultimately revealed that the director is a true romantic at heart.
The last few scenes show David about to gouge his eyes out with a knife. To Lanthimos, love is literally blind.