At the risk of sounding perilously similar to Rep. Louie Gohmert, who recently suggested gays should be left out of space colonies since they cannot reproduce, there are important biological and social reasons why human beings should pair off. The simplest argument, of course, concerns reproduction and the continuation of our species. But bountiful research also suggests the tremendous drawbacks of living life in isolation – depression, poor health, low communal ties, and so on.
Writers Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou never tip their hand about what led up to the society they create in “The Lobster,” though one imagines it likely involves some of the factors listed above. In their milieu, anyone without a life partner gets politely sent off to a hotel where they must find a match within 45 days – or face becoming transformed into the animal of their choice. Love, in other words, has been stripped of all romance and reduced to little more than social utility.
As public demonstrations from the manager (Olivia Colman) remind guests of why couples represent the ideal human arrangement, highly regulated activities nudge them towards identifying a partner with some shared characteristic over which they can begin a life together. Pretensions of status, class or wealth cannot cloud the decision, either. This total institution strips away individuality by forcing all participants to adhere to a simple, drab uniform by their gender.
The protagonist served to us, Colin Farrell’s David, serves as a guide through the many possibilities of this ecosystem. Some choose to throw themselves at anyone in the hopes of identifying someone equally as desperate. Others face public punishment for finding pleasure with themselves. A few brave souls are willing to stake their future on a lie in order to leave the hotel.
Another group, completely rejecting the premise of the hotel, lives as nomads in the surrounding wooded areas. As enforced by their brutal and often sadistic leader, played by Lea Seydoux, these individuals remain resolutely single and spurn any kind of behavior in the realm of flirtation. Their main form of social ties? Electronic music dance parties in a silent disco style, where each person dances to the beat within their own headphones.
In such a world of polarized extremes, which path should David choose? Both camps have their allure as well as their drawbacks. Over the course of two hours, “The Lobster” provides an unparalleled satire of a world where singleness and coupledom are each taken to the point of absurdity by groups who consider them more of a lifestyle than a life choice. Lanthimos presents the opposing camps as equally respectable and risible. Thus, any extrapolations into our present reality perhaps more of a litmus test for an individual viewer’s philosophy than a deciphering of the film’s intentions.
Regardless of the message one takes away, the extent to which Lanthimos as a director maintains the poker-faced sendup inspires awe. Everything, particularly the performances delivered by Farrell and Rachel Weisz as the woman who captures David’s heart, gets underplayed. The actors never code switch to signal for laughter from an audience that their characters would not recognize or know. As such, any moment can provide an opportunity for humor alongside the social commentary – and perhaps also along with the self-reflection, should someone feel so inclined. A- /