We all know that pairing off with another human being offers great benefits, not just to individuals but to the world at large. Married men live longer, married women have better financial security. Everyone is happier, healthier and more productive. But who needs society, or anyone else, telling us what to do when it comes to love? In his absurdist romantic tragicomedy The Lobster, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos–best known for his twisted 2009 art-house hit, Dogtooth–takes on the tyranny of coupledom as the most desirable state.
Colin Farrell plays a man nearing middle age who suddenly finds himself single. That wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t live in a society in which loners are shipped off to a country hotel, where they must find a suitable mate in 45 days–or else be turned into the animal of their choice (in Farrell’s case, a lobster) and released into the Woods, never to return to the City, where the civilized, coupled-off humans live.
Farrell has another choice, though that one–involving an adventurous loner played by Rachel Weisz, part of a colony of militant singletons led by an amusingly tyrannical Léa Seydoux–has even thornier complications. Adamant unconventionality, it turns out, demands just another kind of fitting in.
The Lobster is a droll piece of work lashed with grim humor. For every moment that makes you laugh, there may be another that leaves you with your mouth hanging open. But Lanthimos poses some crazily poetic questions in The Lobster, particularly about what it means to ally yourself with another person. How much of yourself do you give up? What must you hold on to at all costs? And can you ever be sure you’re not making the other person fit just so you won’t be alone?
Somehow, it works, thanks largely to Farrell. Those caterpillar eyebrows of anxiety signal just about everything we need to know. Without a word, they sum up what we talk about when we talk about love.
This appears in the May 23, 2016 issue of TIME.