The Lobster and the Stigma of Singlehood
I saw The Lobster on a whim, going with a friend to a local cinema and choosing something that was showing at a convenient time. We both left feeling uneasy, knowing we liked the movie but still with an unsettling thought nestling in our heads. The idea throughout the movie, perpetuated by the dystopian world that The Lobster is based in, dictates that being single is not an option. You get a chance to find love and become a couple or else you’re turned into an animal of your choosing. Which, as explained within the film, will allow you to attempt to find love again, with an animal this time.
I attempted to write a simple review of the film, with the conclusion being that I enjoyed it immensely despite its worrying outlooks. However, I couldn’t help but have my thoughts wander to other relevant films that concentrate on being single or getting over someone. It was concerning to realise that the impression from a range of pop culture influences in both movies and television shows throughout the years is that being single is a negative aspect in society.
An example could be presented in 500 Days of Summer. The film chronicles the rise and fall of a relationship that wasn’t meant to be, but which ultimately compels our leading man to rely on himself to be happy and sort out his life. The end of the movie, however, still finds it necessary to chance a meeting between our leading man and a pretty girl, to insinuate that he won’t be single for long, that hope and potential for a romantic relationship remain. Is this a conclusion that is created by an audience that demands the suggestion of a happy ending needing to be sealed with a possible romance? Or is the audience so demanding of this because pop culture through history has taught them that single is abnormal, while couples and relationships are the ultimate end result?
This overly used formula; boy meets girl etc., is rampant throughout our film and television. One needs to look no further than popular shows such as How I met Your Mother. The entire show revolving around one man’s need to be married and in love.
Even classic television series like Friends are guilty of perpetuating the superiority of couples. By the end of the 10th season most would agree that the show revolved around the never-ending saga of Ross and Rachel. Horrifyingly, in one of the final episodes the audience is treated to Rachel turning down her perfect job in Paris to instead be with Ross. And we, as the audience are encouraged to celebrate this idea of choosing love, even if it is in a clearly self-sabotaging relationship, over a dream job or adventure in a new country.
One could argue that Katherine Heigl has made a fortune by consistently starring in films that overuse this classic formula; most of her films are easily predictable at this point. Her character probably has a great job, great friends and family, but still feels so incomplete while being single. Enter our romantic lead: they’ll argue, be polar opposites and most likely horrible for each other. But of course, the end of the movie is nearing and we cannot leave our heroine as a happily single woman. What kind of message would that send to the world?
There are odd amounts of traits from movies applied to single people, which unfortunately transcribe to reality at times. One would be the anxiety that comes over us when wanting to dine at a restaurant that may be a little more upscale as a solo diner. The fear of dining alone and ridicule that follow are documented as true and something to be feared in a number of movies and television shows. Examples are easily found, look to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jason Segal fills the role of our solo diner, with Jonah Hill playing a waiter that seems confused and surprised that he would consider dining out by himself.
Another example could be found in the episode of Friends, “The One Where Chandler Crosses the Line”. Rachel learns to enjoy spending time on her own and dining out solo. Which would be great, if the episode didn’t end with a guy she was seeing deciding he was not going on another date with her because: “Yeah, you’ll be seeing me never because you’re a freak that eats alone.”
As much as we can insist that it’s a television show or a movie, it’s not real life, much of the stigma perpetuated in these films and shows become commonplace in reality. The stigma of being single can affect how people go about their lives, choosing to forgo things they may enjoy, not wanting to go to dinner, because they feel they must do certain things as a couple or with someone else.
Maybe that’s why when I got up and left the cinema after viewing The Lobster, I felt a little nauseous. Perhaps I realised the plot of this film, which may seem ridiculous on some level, is actually not that far from the norm. Certainly we’re not condemning those that are single to be turned into an animal, or hunting down groups that strike out on there to be single. But we’re definitely creating an environment that fills a single person with anxiety and worry when wanting to participate in something they may feel they’re not allowed to.