Article by: Christina Vaizidou
Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist
Translation: Evi Diamantopolou
Revised by: Harriet Spala
I watched George Lanthimos’ movie “Lobster” and two things puzzled me; the first one was the way with which macro-social prototypes and micro-social expectations (e.g. the family’s or the circle of acquaintances and friends regarding relationships) affect and are able to determine the choices, the love life and finally to a large degree the general psychology of an individual.
The movie’s plot takes place in a society where loneliness is forbidden and co-existence with another person as a couple is a necessity. This relationship functions within an environment with rigid, strict rules that leave only a small margin for individuality, feelings and personal freedom. Plenty of questions thus arise such as: What is love? How free are we to seek it, feel it, define it within social ‘’rules’’ of the collective unconscious and the fear of loneliness? What prototypes does each society we live in impose on us? How do these expectations affect us mentally? Finally how much do we need these created social systems as human beings?
We live in a society that promotes heterosexual couples, married and mostly monogamous, a society that is against homosexual couples, to any kind of free relationship or of living on our own by choice, that being single. Lanthimos displays in the movie a form of this prevailing social class, in which whoever cannot find love or a fake parody that might lead to a relationship is punished. The reality might not be as harsh: it might include tax reductions, salary benefits, and ‘’points’’ for appointment to a position for those already married. However these are elements of social discrimination, and consequently stigmatize people who are single. Maybe reality includes something more important: the psychological pressure a person suffers, consciously or not, to follow the usual path that society approves which leads to a couple, marriage and finally to family creation.
Conducting a quick flashback in history regarding an individual’s sexual expression, I have to stress out certain points: The primitive individual was lead to free sexual relationships with no restrictions. The development of family constitution and, furthermore the social norms led to the establishment of customs and rules that defined relationships. “Then, sexuality is trapped with care. It changes. It gets trapped by the marital coupled family’’ (History of sexuality, Michel Foucault 1982). During the Byzantine period, marriage becomes a divine mystery, gets legislated and passes into the ‘’genome’’ of Christian faith. When a society is orientated towards a society with religious faith, marriage becomes a social command by extend.
Thus, marriage joined the ideological lab of society slowly as a set purpose and is already more than law: is a quiet social contract, an accepted tradition, inherited from generation to generation through common unconscious. We include from our early childhood married couples to our games, decide on a much earlier age to whom we are going to get married to and later who we shall love and we shape our standards about marriage and our friends in this context from puberty (Marriage and the family, Hauard Becker, Reuden Hill, 1942). Most of us agree that the best is to get married young. We have been taught that getting married means we are legitimate and adapted in our society and we include ourselves in the adult group. We achieve recognition as couples to our social environment. We have achieved a life objective and we can now move on equally important objectives, such us having children and creating our ‘’abode’’.
In Lanthimos’ utopian film, society lectures are given about the dangers of leading a lonely life such as the security provided to a woman when she walks along with her husband and not only this. In our society, the benefits of life as a couple and preferably as a legally married couple disseminates in the air: from Valentine’s Day as an aspect of overconsumption of love, to the daily avalanche of information from TV, shops, magazines regarding the ideal couple and marriage and the deepest fear of “growing old alone’’; Regardless how many singles increase they still remain sidelined. Nobody refers for example to the fact that not everyone is born to create a family. The social message of the necessity to marry and have children has deeply affected the female sex: gorgeous brides, games referring to motherhood and marriage magazines that feature in women’s’ unconscious years now.
We expect to get married once we reach the proper “age”. Parents, brothers, friends, eagerly wait for us to get married. One person’s marriage creates the expectation of our marriage, even through the wish “cheers to your future wedding too” without a second thought. At one point of adult life, depending on the social environment we live in, we start to feel this expectation as a pressure to get married and thus we seek, not a future or romantic or a companion but a future husband or wife.
All previously mentioned, in western societies the expectation where marriage can cover all of the social and emotional needs of an individual, has solidified these past years. However if the sexual life was strictly surrounded compulsively by the monogamist idea of marriage, it would be regulated only externally thus it would be incompatible with the individuals’ needs. This paradox is created even though marriage disengaged from the compulsive, strict, dominative social conduct, and it can indeed satisfy an individual’s needs, leading him/her to happiness.
The pressure created, often leads to domestic arguments, mostly with impatient parents and even by a person’s need to avoid social meetings which either include many other couples or possibly have the habit of strong judged and interfering suggestion regarding his/her upcoming marriage. All this occurs while singles have no problem with their chosen way of life, yet quite often they feel failure or that they have made a mistake.
We often need our family’s approval as human beings a fact that often causes intense psychological pressure or even a feeling of guilt in case our choices don’t respond to their expectations. Constantly seeking a possible bride or husband often creates the feeling that life as it already is, isn’t enough, satisfactory, fulfilling. The belief that entering a relationship and marriage are prerequisites for happiness, leads to constant stress, insecurity, and the fear that unhappiness will arrive in case we fail to find what we are searching for.
Moral demands which under the pressure of a permanent social influence are forced upon the individual by himself or herself increase the pile of personal wishes or needs. The larger is the conflict between the instinct and social morality, the larger is the disharmony created between personal needs and the ability to fulfill them. All mentioned create a situation of intense stress and wider vulnerability towards depressive emotions. Hence the clash is mostly unconsciously done; This is an issue that can’t be resolved on its own.
In the film “The Lobster” the punishment is to turn into an animal and if this seems distant, it’s worth making a flashback to ancient Greece: Lycurgu’s law in ancient Sparta obligates unmarried Lacedaemonians punishments, such as e.g. walking around naked in winter at the market singing vulgar songs (Parallel lives/ Lycurgus, 15, Plutarch), while Plato suggests either to pay a monetary fee as punishment, or some kind of humiliation to anyone who hasn’t got married by the age of 30 to 35 (Laws, Plato). As for modern societies, we can refer to the “punishment’’ of divorce: in Malta the divorce legislation was drafted just in 2011 (Allied Newspaper Ltd, “Divorce and… maintenance’’, Times of Malta), in Ireland divorce was strictly forbidden by the constitution until 1995 (McA v McA  2 ILRM 48). While if we consider that these punishments are about to extinct in modern societies, what happens with the “punishment’’ of disappointment and the family’s consent, the psychological pressure or worst, the “stigma’’ that still exists, mostly at rural areas?
It has been noted these past years nevertheless, that there is a considerable increase of singles, as a life-choice and not as a transitional period until marriage or remarriage. Lanthimos indirectly sets the question how this sidelining of this different choice of being single, can lead to the creation of a system with equally strict rules, as in order to obtain total freedom deriving from the fact of being single, to exist, rules and strict ones too must be applied. Furthermore, how much does an individual needs and seeks the existence of any system, while forgetting the right to intimacy and companionship which he/she searches for instinctively?
This is how it concludes to the most characteristic point of the plot’s hotel: a strict systematic environment, dedicated exclusively to the ultimate control of the chaos created by human feelings. It’s about a utopian society, in which social norms become more empowered and contrary to the personal freedom. In Lanthimos’ hotel there is no bisexual choice, there are no half measures. There is no variety of relationships or choices in life. You are either a legitimate couple and a family guy or an illegal single. There, everything is black or white and the choices are null. What about in real life?
The Lobster (2015) was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimis Filippou
Bella De Paulo Ph.D., Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, Bella de Paulo Ph.D., St. Martin’s Press; Reprint edition, 2007, ISBN: 0312340826.
Coontz Stephanie, History of marriage: From submission to familiarity or how love won marriage, Politropon publishing, 2008, ISBN: 13 9789606840029.
Wilhelm Reich & Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Die sexuelle Revolution. Zur charaktristischen Selbststeuerung des Menschen, GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1971, ISBN-10: 3596267498.