I’ve always been obsessed with the future. Obsessed with you, in other words. One of my biggest concerns is how you’ll perceive us. Will you think we’re as stuffy, naïve and unaware as we tend to think the ladies and gentlemen with funny hats and whimsically timid demeanours in Youtube clips from a 100 years ago can be? That we’re as snared by unseen reins and caught up in outmoded conventions as our fuddy-duddy ancestry?
I’m asking for a very specific reason. You see, I think I might just have been offered a distorted glimpse of the future by way of an absurdist, dystopian comedy called The Lobster. In any event, it’s managed to mess with my 21st century head.
Featuring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and Lea Seydoux, it turns ingrained, contemporary assumptions about marriage and coupledom on its head through exaggeration, transposition and surrealist distortion of reality; people unable to find a partner will be turned into animals, those unable to stop fighting will be assigned children (‘it usually helps’) and the poor saps incapable of functioning within this love-tyrannical paradigm are left to the woods with the other ‘loners’ where they are hunted and turned into animals if caught by a fateful tranquilizer dart. As if that wasn’t enough, they’re also ruled by a totalitarian leader with a proclivity for mutilation if people step out of line.
As a comment on the institution of coupledom, I think it works extremely well by laying bare deep-seated norms and convictions via its absurdist, alternate universe where social dynamics are inverted, uncanny and farcical. It’s the old holding up a mirror to society-trick made new and done overwhelmingly well. Critics tell me that the movie has traces of Luis Bunuel. Having never seen any Bunuel, I’ll have to take their word for it. For my own part, I think there’s a definite Orwellian influence as well as a certain expressionist bent with some contemporary comedy followed by dark, visceral intensity.
It’s serious, yet funny, stupid but smart, conceptually radical, yes visually conservative, constantly surprising and satisfyingly difficult to pin down. There are lucid themes, but no clear-cut message. With the just the right balance between message and ambiguity, we’re left to figure things out for ourselves.
Although it does lose a bit of steam towards the end by disappearing up its own zaaaaany backside (the shock of the new invariably becomes its own kind of permanence), on the whole, its dissection and questioning of our obsession with finding a partner becomes an intriguing, eye-opening experiment that takes a good long while to process. It’s certainly got me scratching my own early 21st century beard in bewilderment.
The question I’m getting to is if this is any indication as to how we might organize ourselves socially in the future. If marriage and pairing up are oppressive institutions, what does the emancipation from said institutions look like in your time? Massive orgies? Relationship clusters consisting of up 20 people? Fucking and loving the entire world in your beefed-up version of virtual reality? Will you view our constant coupling as backwards and oppressive – a socio-cultural status quo you couldn’t possibly see yourself living in?
Obviously, I don’t know. Quite frankly. I’m jealous that you get to experience it. Whatever ‘it’ is.