The Lobster is an absurdist satire about society’s adulation of the romantic couple. In this 2015 dystopian film, where being too far away from your partner is a punishable crime, single people are involuntarily checked-in to the “Hotel’ so that they may find compatible partners within 45-days, or be transformed into the animal of their choice.
Fresh out of a divorce, the film’s protagonist, David, portrayed by Colin Farrell, fails to make a relationship work with a heartless woman. Fearing transformation to an animal, David escapes from the hotel and runs into the woods to join the “loners.” The loners are not without their own impossible rules, however. In juxtaposition with mainstream society and the hotel, the community of loners prohibits dependency and romance or couple-like behavior. Loners must dig their own graves, even, and lip-slashing is the punishment for flirting.
This speaks directly to what Becker’s detailed discussion of what Otto Rank terms the “romantic solution.” Namely, the deification of one’s romantic partner is order to fulfill one’s “urge to cosmic heroism” (The Denial of Death, 160). Extending this individual coping mechanism reveals wider societal trends. Becker points out that the spiritual problem of man is now indeed a romantic one, for “man now lies in a ‘cosmology of two’” (161). Surrendering ourselves to become one with our ‘above-of-this-world’ significant other however, leaves both individuals in the relationship in a perilous spiritual state. Indeed, “Rank saw too… that the spiritual burdens of the modern love relationship were so great and impossible on both partners that they reacted by completely despiritualizing or depersonalizing the relationship. The result is the Playboy mystique: over-emphasis on the body as a purely sensual object. … No wonder too that the people who practice it become just as confused and despairing as the romantic lovers. To want too little from the love object is as self-defeating as to want too much” (168).
The Lobster hits the mark in its ability to satirize these polarities within the religious solution. It effectively points out the absurdity in the over-valuation of couplehood by satirizing the search for a compatible partner. Hotel guests are forced to watch propaganda conveying the dangers of being single; to spend a full day with the use of only one hand to demonstrate how nature designed things to be in pairs… as if the threat of animal transformation isn’t pressure enough! Literally, unification with the love object here is life-saving — and the only way to live successfully within the culture. But it’s just as absurd to reject any desire for existential or spiritual fulfillment in another. The film brilliantly depicts the lunacy of a world without romance in a chilling scene in which the loners dance side-by-side in the forest, listening alone to music on headphones. Absurd, and also reality, as anyone who has witnessed a modern “silent disco” can attest.
The film’s jabs at our modern social mores around romantic partnership are not subtle. As with any good satire, the work helps lift the veil around some of our societal constructions, especially the institutions that protect us from our fear of meaninglessness, solitude, and death. The Lobster challenges viewers to question deeply why might society value romantic partnership over singleness. And further, with the knowledge of Becker’s works, how might the romantic solution to our death anxiety perpetuate those mores?