Lobsters, David says, are blue-blooded like aristocrats. They never lose their ability to procreate. They live over a hundred years. That is, if left to their own devices instead of being boiled alive and then slobberingly buttered for feasting.
David is the protagonist in Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest, nonchalantly dystopian, film The Lobster. Played by Colin Farrell, David exists in a parallel world where coupling is mandatory at all times or else you get turned into an animal.
On the bright side, you get to pick the animal you want to spend the rest of your days as.
I was lucky enough to to see The Lobster as a part of the 8th Panorama of the European Film here in Egypt. It was everything I hoped, but nothing I expected. It lulled a bit, I LOL-ed a bit. I was surprised most by the turnout. I didn’t think the premise would appeal to a wide audience, but a packed theatre there was.
The fox is my animal counterpart of choice mainly for aesthetic reasons, which my sister kindly pointed out I wouldn’t get to appreciate since I’d be a fox (not a lot of mirrors in the wild, so to admire myself I’d have to live the city fox life, perpetually lurking and on the run. I am still very OK with this). They are beautiful. They are wily. They do what they want. I donned my red, knitted fox ears to the movies and counted the cameo animal appearances as they pottered around in the background of various scenes.
The world Lanthimos has created satirises the near mechanic nature of romantic relationships. He hyperbolises the pressure to pair by making it obligatory in the film, where relationships are based on arbitrary flaws or characteristics. When David’s wife leaves him for another short-sighted man, he is carted off to a bleak-looking luxury hotel where he enters a pseudo matchmaking service/contest/torture to find a new mate within 45 days. At the end of his time at bleak-hotel, David will be transformed into a lobster for all of his aforementioned reasons.
He can, however, extend his stay by participating in “the hunt,” where guests of the bleak-hotel chase after, sedate, and capture “loners.” These loners are outcasts who live in the woods and refuse to conform by pairing, even condemning any socialising that could potentially lead to coupling within their own disjointed ranks. They are the antithesis to their society and dancing only to electronic music, and convincing themselves they’re happy alone.
You’re not meant to identify with any of the drab and monotonous characters in this film, but I still felt like you could at least understand that desire to pair and the desire not to. The Lobster was poignant for me because I was nowhere to be found in it. There is no middle in the film: you’re either perpetually looking until someone says your times up, or you’re condemned a “loner.” It was a critique and a reminder there is no way to ride the middle in our society.
People often ask me how my “love life” is going or if there’s anyone special, to which I often reply with a shrug. I am single. I am happy, being single. Ever since I can remember, I’ve felt this pressure to start seeking out my “other half” or that eventually I’d find them. Labelling myself “single” carries certain connotations: that I’m looking for someone to negate that status, that there is something inherently abhorrent about it, that I am alone, and therefore obviously lonely.
The people who run the bleak-hotel in The Lobster explain to the singletons that everything is harder when you are alone; they tie David’s hand behind his back to prove that two of something is better than one. It’s comical and ridiculous because of how absurd it is.
I’ve traveled alone, lived alone, done major life things alone—but have never, except for in brief moments, felt incapable or lonely. If I only had one hand I would have managed to do all these things just the same, and felt just as good. I have never felt like a part of me was missing, or lacking, because I haven’t found my “soul mate.” I know this is a real, palpable pain—I’ve seen what it does to friends, family, people I love. They believe it and they live with the ticking weight of it.
I don’t want to live in a vacuum, nor do I want to dig my own grave (no thanks, loners). As much as I value my alone time, life would lose meaning without the people I love or people to share things I love with. I’ve never ruled out having a loving partnership with someone. The fact that it will or won’t happen just doesn’t seem to bother me.
And that’s what people find the most confusing: I’m not expending my energy in finding a partner while bemoaning my singular nature, nor am I saying never and becoming a reclusive cat lady. I am the embodiment of a relationship grey area, something that exists outside of either state and seems to be happily functioning in society. Now that, I’ve found, needs a lot of explaining and justifying. Even then, with all the effort, people still find me abnormal or just a flat out liar. To myself, and to them. Because surely everyone understands what I really want and how I really feel better than I do.
It’s what happens when you exist outside of the framework of singletons and loners.
The fox, I realise, is a fitting animal after all. Foxes are lone creatures.
They do not hunt in packs.
They congregate only to mate and raise their kits.
The have the combined independence of a cat and intelligence of a dog.
They do what they want. And that is beautiful.
The Lobster is being screened at Sundance this month and hits US theatres on March 11th.
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