Rebecca Graber is a Masters of Theological Studies and Masters in Social Work student at Samford University. She enjoys reading Martin Luther, Flannery O'Connor, and Sylvia Plath. Rebecca also enjoys laughing, cooking, destroying others in Catan, and taking pictures of her hedgehog, Odette. She is a staunch anti-cargo shorts activist; no man needs that many pockets, and if he tells you otherwise, he is probably hiding something.
*This post may contain spoilers for the movie The Lobster.
What lengths do you go to not be alone? How far would you go? Maybe it’s crafting the perfect Instagram photo, maybe it’s pretending to like that television show that you despise, or making yourself into someone you are not. The movie The Lobster explores this idea in quirky and provoking ways throughout. In this strange world, the protagonist goes to a hotel where you are supposed to be paired off with someone by a certain time or else be turned into an animal of your choosing. Others escape as “loners” and are hunted by the guests. Their is constant tension between those who are “couples” and those who are “loners.” The hotel continually demonstrates the benefits of being paired off (you’ll have someone to give you the Heimlich if you start choking, for example).
It is a pithy commentary on the sometimes deep divisions that are found in our culture between those who are “together” and those who want to be “loners.” The Lobster is also a demonstration of the lengths we may go in order to be with someone–and not in the cutesy romantic comedy way of driving cross country to stop a wedding way. No, this film strikes at how we try to find compatibility in our weaknesses and how sometimes we “fake” certain parts of ourselves just so we won’t be alone.
For example, John, tells of how he has a limp and that is his “defining characteristic.” The woman he was married to before (and who has died) also had a limp. He looks for another woman with a limp. Terrified of being alone, of ending up as an animal, he instead fakes a nose bleed so that he may be with a girl who suffers from constant nose bleeds.
While these examples are quirky and extreme, they do not stray too far from reality. Many times we find we must justify ourselves before another so that they may love us. We force parts of ourselves so that we appear desirable. The Lobstercommented on how we also seek to be justified by finding someone else with our same flaws. A limp, a nosebleed, an inability for emotion, nearsightedness–this is what bound the people together. For some, they injured themselves so that they could be with another person rather than be alone. By sharing flaws, we feel justified because we aren’t the only ones. We feel justified because someone understands.
We feel a need to fulfill some sort of or make some sort of “law of compatability.” We need to have such and such in common with another person in order to make it work. They need to share our passion for hiking, we need to be able to look good together, he needs to be able to dress a certain way, etc. Some of these things are ridiculous but make it onto our “checklist.” This checklist ultimately devalues the worth of a person (I am not saying, however, that certain foundational items like a relationship with Christ or that they respect and honor your personhood are wrong or unnecessary, however).
(Also, I want to make the distinction between trying to justify ourselves in order to be loved and serving out of love, not seeking to be justified. We bend ourselves to the other because we love them for their sake–but this comes out of love, not a desire to be loved.)
We are all broken. Henri Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved, that we are all uniquely broken. No two people suffer in the exact same way. We will never be completely compatible with someone. And we can never truly be justified through our own efforts. We cannot make ourselves lovable.
But the good news is that we do not have to be justified. The good news is that we do not have to be alone–we have One who comes to us. And because of that, we do not have to force ourselves into relationships. The tragic and beautiful news is that, yes, we are unlovable creatures unable to do or fake enough in order to be loved but we still are because of God’s great grace and mercy. We are only lovable because God makes us that way not because of what we do. As Luther writes in the Heidelberg Disputation, “Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”
Our sin separates us, it divides us, and it steals our humanity. We may not become a lobster, but we also cannot be truly human on our own either. But the good news is, that we do go through a transformation. But unlike in The Lobster, this changes us into humans. Through Christs’s blood, we are made new. By participating in him, we not only are unified but we also become what it means to be truly human.
Deep down, we long for communion. We do so because we were created by a Triune God who desires us to commune with him and one another. Sin twists this and darkens our understanding of how to achieve this or makes relationships an idol. We believe we have to “be” or “do” something to be loved. The beauty is that it has already all been done through Christ. We are loved, we belong to him, and we are free to be who we are in him. We don’t need to make ourselves into someone we are not, we do not have to fear being alone, because he is with us, and he has knit us together in unique ways in which to build each other up and serve one another. We do not have to find justification for our sins and our flaws by finding it in someone else because “there is no sin uncommon to man” and because we can repent and be cleansed.
And praise Christ for that.