Article by: Christina Vaizidou
Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist
Translation: Evi Diamantopolou
Revised by: Harriet Spala
Lanthimos with a dash of cynicism from the beginning of the film, sets limits regarding our choices, as the hotel manager gives advice to the newcomer: Even as an animal, you must choose a partner from your own species (“similar type of animal’’). A wolf and a penguin could never live together. It would be totally impossible.
So what happens during the conscious or unconscious choice of a partner? What sparks the holy madness of love and leads us to our significant other? Do we search for someone similar, do we let the opposites attract, and do we accept others’ criteria or do we chose based on some mysterious unknown power? Which are the biological and evolutionary motives that urge us to search? Does the answer lie in the proverbial phrase “love is blind’’? Do we seek for a partner based exclusively on our criteria or do we carry our family’s traditions, insecurities and stress regarding social “norms’’? Do we choose based on logic, the dreams, the desires, our interests and our needs?
Many theories have formed in an attempt to explain the mysterious phenomenon of “attraction’’. It is really complicated to choose a partner and possibly only a fragment of this procedure is known. The greater part of it is either unpredicted or functions apart from our consciousness, even on an invisible chemistry level. Either way, although there is an indisputable fact that certain elements exist which all of us find attractive, choosing a partner is formed through a multifaceted process.
The genetics field through its exciting findings show that we usually fall in love with people who have specific ‘’histocompatible’’ genes (Major Histocompatibility Complex, MHC), which play a defying role to our ability to fight pathogenic organisms and thus survive. Couples with unequal histocompatibility genes can give birth to descendants with a stronger immune system, satisfying the primitive need of the human kind continuance and the natural choice. Studies have shown that smell is an important characteristic in seeking these genes-atoms, while the mechanism is not yet known (MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans, Claus Wedekind, Thomas Seedeck, Florence Bettens, Alexander J. Paepke, The Royal Society, 22 June 1995).
Τhe meaning of olfaction in sexual attraction, either through the olfaction memory or through the emission of pheromones, has been the object of surveys and disputes these past years regarding humans, even though it is widely accepted in the animal kingdom. Perception of smell stimulus through the olfactory receptors does not only lead to a conscious recognition of scent but also sends signals through neural connectors and in certain areas of our brain that invoke memories and feelings. Regardless of the fact that cleanliness and the extensive use of artificial scents in the western world has limited the signals that a human emits in this “animalistic’’ way, many surveys in the past years have highlighted the meaning of olfaction stimulus when exchanging even unconsciously sexual stimuli (Karl Grammer et al., Human pheromones and sexual attraction, European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 2005). It is also stated that once, Bonaparte wrote to his beloved Josephine: “I will arrive in Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t bathe”!
A different theory regarding love chemistry, yet persists on the human reproductive “need’’, is the one that states that a woman is seeking a man capable to support her emotionally and literally her and her children and furthermore, fully cover their needs. A man seeks qualities that confirm the woman’s ability to be fertile, for example is attracted by the body type.
From Darwin’s era to the era of psychoanalysis, we find many theories regarding our parenting model. Our relationship with our first caretaker during infancy, who is the first person with whom we develop a symbiotic relationship, as well as the other parent, exercises a great influence to our partnership choices according to the theory of psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud: Der Untergang des Odipuskomplexes, 1924). According to Freud, Oedipus’ complex (or Elektra’s complex) explains how men have as an erotic representation their mother while women their father and at the same time identify with the parent of the same sex. This reproduction often becomes an unconscious search object even if it has generated negative experiences, as the individual tends to reproduce the relationship prototype that he/she has already learned, even if this knowledge has been based on personal insecurities and fears. An absent father often leads to “ghost” partners e.g. married men, a depressed father leads in future to becoming the “nurse’’ companion. Nevertheless in a world full of fear, people often choose what gives them a feeling of familiarity. We are generally guided by an unconscious erotic icon inside us, following very intensive emotional feelings during our childhood. The mother and father affect the development of such metaphors based on the love given or not given to the child. If the mother is loving and tender “the first and possibly the most important step towards a successful marriage is accomplished” (Dicks, 1967). As children, we are surrounded by the ideal partner idea which consists of our parent’s characteristics, maybe as a hopeful result that we shall obtain more possibilities to revive the same love experience and security. Just as Freud’s theory was almost considered outdated, in a survey conducted by Pecs University in Hungary, where 52 families participated (312 people, ranging between 21 to 32 years old), scientists discovered important correlations between the parent’s external characteristics and their children’s current partners. This correlation has been analyzed by many as supportive evidence regarding the psychoanalytical theory (Oedipus Complex, Mate Choice, Imprinting; an Evolutionary Reconsideration of a Freudian Concept based on Empirical Studies, Tamas Bereczkei, Petra Gyuris University of Pecs, The Mankind Quarterly, Volume L, Nos. 1 & 2, Fall/Winter 2009).
Apart the psychodynamic processes of our personality development, our parenting prototypes form where we come from (ancestry) our heritage. There are studies supporting similarities between the parent of the other sex and the partner which are for example based on religion, values or life style (Bailey et al, 1994; Boyden, Carroll & Maier, 1984; Howard et al, 1987; Murstein, 1976). We see traits of our personality projected on our partner; we have similar experiences, activities, life style, ways of entertainment, worries, dreams and life scenarios. Actually studies that support this theory describe this trend with the term “homogamy” (Sexual imprinting in human mating choice, Tamas Bereczkei, Petra Gyuris and Glenn E. Weisfeld, The Royal Society, 2004).
However the question arises: do we choose person similar to us or are we attracted only a person totally opposite? The choice is either based on trying to complete our needs through our partner or based on similarity and partnership proportion. In case we choose partners who are similar to our personality, we feel less lonely and we understand easily how each other feels. Furthermore we cover the need of reassurance. The choice of a partner completely opposite to our personality is made often to cover what we think is missing and in an effort to feel complete. Through the relationship with such a personality, we contact a part of ourselves that we either ignore but still crave. So quite often love seems like an unconscious choice of a partner matching a suppressed side of our personality. Most studies nevertheless show that although having different personalities is exciting, similar traits of personalities offer us «rewards» within the relationship and stability for a longer period of time (Folkes, 1982, Wilson et al, 2006).
The world as depicted in the film “The Lobster” features similarity as one of the most important traits. People are surrounded by a society that consciously focuses on each individual having a specific characteristic, people choosing their partners solely based on that same characteristic and having also the respective flaw. The theory of similarity is not only highlighted, but also of intimacy, safety and the need to fight personal insecurities and inferiority feelings, through their partner. David insists in finding a woman with short-sightedness, the woman with nosebleeds is attracted as soon as she sees her future partner’s nose to bleed. These “flaws” diminish from the moment they become a couple and thus the feeling of loneliness reduces.
The film “The Lobster” outlines in general the choice of partner based on a social automation process enacted by the hotel manager and dictated by the need of viable couples coexistent towards the society, the economy or the ability to be fertile and not out of some personal need to love. The hotel manager rewards the choices made by similarity, describes the couple with nosebleeds as a perfect “match” and explains how in case couples face any problems they are “assigned” children, suggesting that way the purpose of having a family. The only couple similar regarding a “positive” characteristic is the couple that has studied social sciences, suggesting yet again the social compatibility.
The choice of a husband for a significantly large historical period, based on such a fragile and irrational feeling of love, was like a science fiction script. In ancient India, to fall in love prior to being wed was a totally antisocial action, just like in the society of the film “The Lobster”, where there is no space for pointless feelings. Nevertheless, love is brought to light during the film within the rebellious context of the single rebels and embellishes the choice of a partner, which is done with the same criteria and with mysterious passion. Theodor Reik, psychoanalyst, believed that if we feel negative about ourselves it’s more likely to fall in love because people feel that there are absent elements within them and they try to find them in their partner. Francis Scott Fitzgerald describes this attraction: «Something strange happened. She turned to him and smiled and when he saw her smile, all anger and wounded selfishness disappeared from his heart – as if even his mood was but a shadow of her mood, as if emotion did not fill his chest but only if she thought it proper to pull a powerful thread that controlled him».
David rebels for love, lead by biological criteria, psychodynamic processes, parental heritage, conscious beliefs and social norms, in order to claim the right to choose his own life partner, only for all of us viewers to stare at his image in front of a mirror and the question floating through music lyrics: “What is love, what is this, what is this, that makes you sing the tune I love you, I love you, I love you? What is love, what is this, that instantly gives you wings and brings joy and sadness too?”
The Lobster (2015) was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthimis Filippou
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