“What brought a single primate line to a rare level of eusociality?” asks Edward Wilson, the well-known Harvard biologist in “The Meaning of Human Existence” (pg. 21).
Eusociality is the reason why Homo Sapiens, as a species, was able to conquer very difficult problems like an international monetary system, transnational corporations or, for that matters, dominion on Planet Earth.
Among many things, like a reflection on the kind of mundane peer-pressure that our society imposes on its members in terms of accepted rules for mating and reproduction, Yorgos Lanthimos‘ splendid “The Lobster” is a meditation on this sort of problems: why mammals -and in particular Homo Sapiens- do have eusociality.
It actually accomplishes that by a reductio ad absurdum argument – by showing what it means for a society not to possess it.
Echoes of Buñuel -not only of Archibal de la Cruz but also and foremost of The discreet charm – are abundant. But the purpose of the film is less that of a social satire than of a dystopian meditation on patterns of sociability.
In either the claustrophobic forced in-mating of the hospice, or in the equally repulsive forced decoupling in the woods- the film seems to revolve around that single thread: what kind of society will we be inhabiting if we did not possess the mammalian sociability, but we were simply programmed to solve problems- and maybe be good at that.
Yuval Harari – in his wonderful book ‘Homo Sapiens’ (here Bill Gates on it) and even more in his ‘Homo Deus’- articulates the question: we are on the brink of offloading onto the cosmos some kind of intelligent life – non-organic & design-based- which has no leeway for emotional intelligence and/or emotional resilience, no use for it. Machine intelligence.
Modern (neuro)science does not really know, but the default position is that consciousness and emotions are a biochemical computational infrastructure known to higher species only, like ‘the roar of the engine’ and as such are overrated in a cosmic perspective: think for instance to the prospect of colonizing other planets. Solaris did not possess emotions, but quite likely was able to solve intractable problems, maybe prove the Riemann hypothesis or adjust its own orbit by altering the gravitational pull (see Lem’s book).
But a world populated by purely optimum-seeking automata would be very similar to the hospice inhabited by the people in the first half of ‘The Lobster’: Harari’s argument that this is a scary prospect rings visually true, but quite likely this is just another instance of our carbon chauvinism as species, to which I would add the eusociality chauvinism.