Criminally Single, as explained by The Lobster
If you are single, or recall a time when you were single if you are currently partnered, please imagine your single status is a criminal offense. This is a hypothetical scenario established by Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos, in his English-language debut film – The Lobster. In the dystopian world Lanthimos creates, a single person is sent to a hotel with other single people and s/he will have 45 days to find a new partner. If failed, s/he will be turned into an animal of her or his choice. The protagonist, David (Colin Farrell), chooses to become a lobster for his love for the ocean and lobster’s long life cycle. The hotel for single people have many rules. Identification of sexual orientation is a must, masturbation is a punishable offense, socialization with other guests is a must, hunting down single people who escape from the hotel will extend your stay, and education on the advantages of partnership is mandatory. All in all, these rules are laughably absurd.
Standing at the intersection between dark comedy and science fiction, The Lobster encourages its audience to contemplate how to deal with real life absurdity through humor and self-reflection. For film is an allegory of real life, as Professor Tinkcom stated in the Science Fiction Film class, a good film illuminates the normalized absurdity around us. Now think about the absurd rules presented in The Lobster, and try think how far are they from reality?
The definition of “love” is very different depending on age. Those who believe in the idea of a “one true love” when young might learn to be realistic and practical about love as they age. In a lot of societies, love is a milestone in life and then one day it becomes an obligation. The 45-day rule in The Lobster is ridiculously arbitrary yet it is also arbitrary to consider someone to be “problematic” if s/he is single and over 30.
“Leftover women” (剩女: shèng nǚ) is a pejorative Chinese term used to identify unmarried women over 30. The word “leftover” implies the end goal of any individual – to be patterned. The term became as popular as it is problematic and there is even a book written on it. The traits of leftover women comprise being “selfish and too independent,” too stupid to see the benefits of being in a relationship, too picky, too overachieving career wise. Being a leftover woman is considered as an temporary status and it can be addressed through “good understanding of reality.” Other people should “help” those who are “leftovers.” If one fails to be rid of this “temporary status,” she becomes less of a “healthy” human. In this logic, being turned into an animal, in the film, seems less absurd.
According to the film, there are two ways to be free from becoming an animal. One is to find a partner within the hotel. Two is to escape. You cannot establish love without a “common trait.” This implies that sheer sexual attraction is insufficient for love, a commonality, ranging from the same zip code to the same interest, is a necessary justification. If no common trait can be found, one can simply fake it. Just like David’s friend does in the film, he lies for the sake of unity. In her book on “leftover women,” Hong-Fincher maintains that Chinese society’s solution to unmarried women is matchmaking. There are “matchmaking fairs,” which are basically massive speed dating events, that aim to “help” women to be rid of their singlehood (34). These fairs are not about love, but for achieving a milestone a life.
So what is love and how can you obtain it? Lanthimos offers his interpretation of love through David’s choice, which is the another option to get out of being punished for singlehood, he escapes the hotel. Free from the rules of the hotel, David finds himself amongst the singles he once hunted. These loners have their rules as well. Love is prohibited between two loners. Ironically, David, who is shortsighted, finds his love, a shortsighted woman (Rachel Weisz). Through this common trait, they are perfect for each other, and their attraction is justified as love. It’s organic, natural, and pure. Or at least that is what they think.
Leftover women sometimes claim to be the “liberated ones” since they choose to be single and be patient with love. They are like the loners, taking the label of being alone while waiting for love. The irony here is, they are doing so to be rid of the “leftover” label. Lanthimos finds hypocrisy in this type of love by placing the two protagonists in another scenario where they will have to make the sacrifice for love.
The Lobster is an interesting allegory to modern love, through which he defines love as both a social obligation and a human instinct. Lanthimos maintains that the socialization of love is so ingrained that even one who escapes the norm shall also face the ultimate dilemma of love by choosing between personal freedom and sacrifice for another person. To him, love is simultaneously a animalistic need, as strong as to be loved when one is over 30, and a social construct, as illusory as the worry about being single and over 30.
The question is, which one of them is real love?
 Hong Fincher, Leta. Asian Arguments: Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (1). London, GB: Zed Books, 2014.