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In the forest, he falls in with a militant opposition group known as the Loners, led by Lea Seydoux’s unsmiling anarchist, whose rigid rules forbidding any form of romantic interaction prove no less oppressive than the ideals of the Hotel.
It’d be unfair to further unpick Lanthimos and Filippou’s beautifully structured tangle of poetic ironies and reversals, except to say that the payoff is at once crueller and more rapturous than in the director’s previous, fiercely disciplined work.
Via the character (and enigmatic narrating voice) of Rachel Weisz’s questioning Loner, “The Lobster” gradually sheds its chilly shell, building to a soft tumult of feeling.
From this point, Lanthimos and regular co-writer, Efthimis Filippou, waste little time establishing the laws of a mundane dystopia that doesn’t look severely different from the world we live in now: one of low-level shopping malls and slightly chintzy resort hotels, in which marriage and procreation is still the prized objective of polite social activity.
Yet the powers that be have taken a somewhat more regimented approach to the latter institution, by which single folk are actively punished for their failure to pair up.
Restricted to the rural outskirts of a damp, unnamed city, they are literally hunted down by other unattached prisoners of the Hotel, an aggressively beige institution where inmates are given 45 days to find a mate within their ranks — or be turned into an animal of their choosing and released into the wild.
If that seems ridiculous, the Hotel — and, by extension, the film — nonetheless have strict standards of what constitutes rational and irrational occurrence.
While no one bats an a eyelid at the transformation of humans into flamingos, the two-by-two mandate of Noah’s Ark still applies: A wolf and a penguin cannot live together, decrees the no-nonsense Hotel manager (the splendid Olivia Colman), “because that would be absurd.” The recipient of this lecture is new captive David (Farrell), a mild-mannered divorcee who seems less desperate to secure a match than some of his fellow guests — including a young man with a limp (Ben Whishaw) and a middle-aged one with a lisp (John C. Only Farrell’s character is named; others are billed solely by their chief disability, also the principal criterion by which compatibility is determined here.