Film: Kinds of Kindness

Having taken Hollywood by storm with Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos—in truly Lathimosian fashion—threatens to shatter that goodwill with a cryptic, confounding anthology film, Kinds of Kindness (2024). After two collaborations with Tony McNamara, whose clever, eloquent scripts rendered Lanthimos’ edgy aesthetic more accessible, Lanthimos returns to his more frequent writer Efthimis Filippou, whose audacious, bleak worldview leads to an offputting, impenetrable experiment.

The film is composed of three acts, each a self-contained narrative featuring the same actors playing different roles. The only recurring character is a mute man named R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos). In “The Death of R.M.F.,” a corporate employee named Robert (Jesse Plemons) lives his entire life under the officious control of his boss/lover Raymond (Willem Dafoe). When Robert balks at committing R.M.F.’s murder as part of his duties, Raymond severs ties, spurring Robert to drastic measures to try and restore his sense of self. “R.M.F. is Flying” pivots to the tale of Daniel (Plemons), whose wife Liz (Emma Stone) has gone missing after a helicopter—piloted by R.M.F.—crashes at sea. When Liz is miraculously rescued, her personality has changed just enough to convince Daniel she’s an impostor, leading to rather deranged conflict as they try to reassemble their marriage. Finally, “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich” chronicles the efforts of Emily (Stone) and Andrew (Plemons) to track down a woman who their cult leaders believe can bring people back from the dead. When Emily is excommunicated from the cult for sexual contamination, all seems lost—until she follows one last lead to a woman named Rebecca (Margaret Qualley), whose twin sister Ruth may be the mysterious healer.

Where to begin with this one? Resuming the pitch-dark, stilted style of Lanthimos’ early films like Dogtooth and Alps, Kinds of Kindness is a cringeworthy, cruel film mixing body horror, shock tactics, speculative thought experiments, and head-cocking what-the-fuckery. If anything, the title is ironic and scathingly cynical. There is an element of critique to its bizarre machinations, each chapter skewering a supposedly benevolent institution—corporate capitalism, marriage, and religion—for their distorted, cold-hearted failings. The “kindness” in the film is really synonymous with control, a world in which an individual’s happiness hinges on subjugation, to a job or a partner or a belief system. Unfortunately, Filippou cloaks this twisted messaging in enough opacity that it’s difficult to spot, and while the film occasionally tempers the brutal point with dark humor, it’s not enough to counteract the overall unpleasantness. Fortunately, the ensemble—which also features Mamoudou Athie and Hong Chau—is superb, with Plemons especially impressive in his triple-role. Like many of Lanthimos’ films, Kinds of Kindess is difficult to enjoy, more difficult to recommend, and impossible to unsee. Its unforgiving peculiarities are nothing if not interesting, and it is absorbingly watchable, but overall it’s a perverse misfire.

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