Last week I saw The Lobster, an extremely sad and violent romantic comedy about a world in which, if you don’t find a romantic partner within 45 days, you’ll be turned into an animal. It’s sort of “Why Our Culture Desperately Needs Spiritual Friendship: The Movie.” I hesitate to recommend it to you guys, because it was really hard to watch, partly because it’s so bleak and partly because it’s bleak specifically about loneliness and feeling like there’s no place in the world for someone who hasn’t found a spouse. But it’s a revealing movie–a funhouse mirror held up to our culture as it really is. I reviewed it here.
But here I’d like to talk about what isn’t in the movie even a little bit, because–and maybe this is spoilerous–what’s totally absent are the three theological virtues.
So like okay, clearly faith isn’t there, this is a movie set in a totally atheist society as far as we can see. Religious faith (and, therefore, the fact that no human being is truly “single”) isn’t on the radar at all.
Maybe more interestingly, hope is absent. The closest the characters come to accepting their own lack of control, their helplessness and romantic failure, is a kind of numb resignation. There’s intense and terrified striving for relationship, but no trust that your life has beauty and worth even if you end up as a lonely lobster.
I worry sometimes that we at SF underemphasize trust in God. We’re trying so hard to emphasize that there are other forms of devoted, committed, and intimate love, forms our culture has forgotten (this is what I focused on in my review above), that we can make it sound like you’ve gotta go out there and achieve these deep friendships. We can maybe make it sound like the depth of love shared by Ruth and Naomi or St Gregory and St Basil is yours for the taking, if you just work hard enough.
That can leave people who don’t find this kind of love feeling bereft and ashamed. It can obscure the fact that most of us here at SF are still not fully living the vocations we’re looking for; we live out our callings in partial, imperfect ways. That’s part of what it’s like for most people who try to live a countercultural vocation: It’s really hard! It’s hard to find other people who will live it with you.
This post from Wes I think balances the goodness of “horizontal” love with the primacy of “vertical” love. It’s a post about hope: that Vaclav Havel line (and the beginning of this piece is great too btw), “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
And finally, the world of The Lobster is weirdly free of actual love. There’s self-sacrifice, accepting pain or loss in order to be with another person–but not self-gift. I don’t honor friendship, sisterhood, godparenthood, extended family, intentional community, etc because they are medicine. These forms of love are not (or let’s say, not primarily) a salve for our own aches, a remedy for our own loneliness. They’re a way of pouring yourself out for another person.