Jim Hume writes:
There’s a very good chance that you’ve neither seen nor even heard of The Lobster. If you read the cast list you might find that surprising, given it’s packed with award winning actors and actresses, one of whom will be the main Bond girl in a couple of weeks. The reason is because it’s an arch, European stylised, near future dystopian satire. (How’s that for an obscure Netflix style subgenre!) So why exactly do we have an Extratime blog about it? Well because the way it satirizes our modern, western way of looking at relationships is hilarious but also thought provoking when you consider it from a gospel perspective. Quick disclaimer though, The Lobster has a deserved 15 rating, so this isn’t a recommendation from Extratime to go and see it, rather just an engagement with its themes.
It stars Colin Farrell as David, a sad moustached man who in the opening scene is told by his wife that she’s leaving him. That’s bad enough as it is but for David it’s a disaster as it means he’s subject to the strict new laws society enforces upon single people. Primarily that involves being taken away to a luxurious but oddly eastern bloc looking hotel where all single people are sent. They’re forced to follow a strange set of rules and conventions for at least 45 days. Their aim is to find a partner from among the other guests. Failure to do so in their allotted time results being turned into an animal of their choice. In the woods surrounding the hotel though are escaped singletons who have pulled together in their own little community. They too mark themselves out by a weird set of regulations that enforce singleness. Every day the hotel guests are sent out to hunt them down with tranquilizers. For each escapee caught you get an initial day to find yourself a new partner. The Lobster isn’t a perfect film, but it is pretty good and quite memorable. It’s a mix of black comedy, love story and stinging satire. It does outstay its welcome a little and loses some energy and edge in its final act. Peter Bradshaw’s review in The Guardian is pretty much spot on.
The Lobster’s satirical criticism on how we view and approach relationships is the heart of the film. It presents a future in which people are stopped in shopping centres and interrogated over their possible, outlawed singleness. The Hotel guests are required to describe themselves in terms of their defining characteristics so that management can approve ‘genuine’ matching partnerships. New inmates spend their first day with one hand tied behind their back to help them appreciate that two is better than one. The renegade wood dwelling singles community isn’t much better. Just the hint of forming any real human bonds is meted with savage penalties. The world of The Lobster presents to us is often hilariously absurd but also brutally honest about the great idol of relationship we’ve built for ourselves in the 21st century.
As Christians we need to be honest and admit that often we just put our own spin on the world’s beliefs. Marriage can be the great idol we build our lives around and revere in our churches. We obviously, and rightly, hold marriage in the highest esteem as a glorious, creation ordained, gift from God. But like anything that has been created, rather than being the creator himself, we can make it an idol. The typical pattern is that Christians marry quite young for our culture, often in the mid or early 20’s. There is of course nothing wrong with that but I’m sure I’m not alone in knowing numerous Christian marriages that have failed in their early years. A discussion about this in my church house group some while back, with a number of older Christians, led us to conclude this is a recent state of affairs. Now obviously each relationship will have had its own particular reasons, and little is gained from generalising. But the pressure our culture puts on us with regards to having intimacy (physical and emotional) and romantic relationships must be a factor. Could it be we’re guilty of jumping in far too quickly because of an idolised view of marriage that has been skewed by cultural pressures? Being completely counterculture, especially on a culturally central belief like this can be one of the biggest challenges for us as Christians. It can be too easy to fail to see we’ve just taken standard secular practise and ‘christianised’ them.
Another interesting idea The Lobster puts forth is that relationships are centrally an end in themselves. A middle of the night attack by the loners on the hotel manager shows that even the strongest proponents of the modern regime are in relationships due to fear and conformism. We live in a world that basically teaches us the point of a relationship is our own pleasure. Romantic love, we’re told, is where the greatest joy is found and therefore the pursuit of that is to be our chief end. If we’re with someone who brings us happiness but then we meet someone who can give us greater happiness there’s nothing really morally wrong for moving on to them. After all we’re doing it for love, which conquers all and is a completely pure motive. It’s not you it’s me! The Bible doesn’t view marriage like that at all. When God said in Genesis 2:18 that Adam shouldn’t be alone it wasn’t because he was lonely, he spent his days walking with God after all! It was because in the context of the passage being married is typically the best vehicle to serve God in. The purpose of marriage, and therefore romantic love, is to create a unit that for those two people will be the best way they can serve God with their lives.
With regards to singleness it’s worth seriously asking if many Christians and churches, in practise, hold a position that different from the world of The Lobster. Of course none of us are going to explicitly contradict 1 Corinthians 7, that married and single people are equal. The question is do we actually act like it’s true as well? Do we look at older single people and think “that’s so encouraging, how they faithfully trust God with their lives and serve Him in the ministries He’s given them”? Or do we find ourselves thinking “it’s a bit sad they’re ‘still’ alone, I wonder who might be good for them…” I’m sure no one would dare to verbalise it but do our culture’s views and representation of single people (sad, lonely, frustrated, probably repressed weirdos) ever cross our minds about certain people in our church?
Our churches, our lives and our relationships must reflect Biblical truth in what we do as well as what we say. Being doers as well as hearers of the Word, as James commanded, involves transforming our renewed minds by reshaping our views in the light of the gospel, away from the lies of our culture. It’s at this lower, inward level that where we really need to be distinct. It’s all well and good disagreeing with sex outside of marriage but if all you’ve got are various rules and not the spirit and gospel source they come from you’ve just created a new legalism. If we just outwardly assert our allegiance to certain doctrinal points but not inwardly believe them from the heart we are unable to create the kind of diverse and loving community that views us in Christ as all equal and essential.
We can’t let single people off easily either though. The Lobster does show that some fault lies with them for just apathetically conforming. Just because the world tells us we’re one thing doesn’t mean we need to believe it. It also doesn’t mean we should make choices we shouldn’t or try to force God’s hand and demand life goes a certain way, because of course Jesus doesn’t actually know what will ultimately be better for us… Singleness needs to be used in the right way. Like marriage it has its own unique pressures and difficulties but also its own special opportunities. Don’t confuse meetings with ministry, don’t hide away in a Christian cocoon hoping for Mr or Mrs Right to turn up. Get out there and get involved in communities where you can share Jesus.
One final note, and it’s awkwardly here at the end because I couldn’t think of a better place to put it. If you’re in our target age range (16-25) and you’re worried about being single there’s one key piece of advice you need to know: chill out! You’ve got a long way to go before it becomes something to get that bothered about.