Life & Culture

Kinds of Kindness, review: a kind of invitation to defy conventional thinking


Faustian pact: a scene from Kinds of Kindness

Kinds of Kindness


Yorgos Lanthimos’s new movie has something theatrical about it. Much like a trilogy of plays it is cast with the same ensemble, only with such Hollywood A-listers as Emma Stone and Willem Defoe who starred in Lanthimos’s previous film Poor Things which paved the way to Stones’s second Oscar.

This team also includes Jesse Plemons (terrifying in Civil War), Margaret Qualley (Drive Away Dolls) and Joe Alwyn, the English actor whose name will be saddled with Taylor Swift’s for a good while yet, the price of being one of the megastar’s most significant former others.

The theatre comparison is also tempting because rather like playwright Annie Baker, whose first movie Janet Planet is being released this month, Lanthimos is interested in subverting the conventions of his art.

Here each short story, which combined amounts to a film of nearly three hours, begins with a title and culminates with acting credits. Throughout Lanthimos and his co-screenwriter Efthimis Filipou exercise a wise maxim, that a narrative should start as late as possible into the plot.

To that end we are parachuted into the disturbing circumstances of their characters at the most extreme moments of their lives. In The Death of RMF (the initials of a mute character who appears in each story) Plemons’s Robert is an employee of Defoe’s tycoon Raymond, a controlling boss who decides every aspect of Robert’s wealthy life, from what he eats to when he has sex with his wife.

We join this Faustian pact as Robert deliberately rams his car into another with the aim of hospitalising himself as per Raymond’s instructions. Disappointingly he is discharged with a mere cut on his head which is when the bizarre arrangement begins to unravel.

Each of the stories explores controlling behaviour of one kind or another. In the second tale Plemon is Daniel, a policeman whose wife Liz (Stone) returns after being shipwrecked during a scientific expedition. Instead of rejoicing, the increasingly unhinged cop refuses to believe that the woman who has returned is his wife.

In the third story called RMF Eats a Sandwich (a title that only makes sense if you stick around for the add-on during the final credits) Stone and Plemon play Emily (actually Stone’s real first name) and Andrew, operatives in a cult run by Defoe’s messianic Omi who gets to sleep with his disciples.

What it all means is elusive. Although just when you think you have the measure of a character’s madness they turn out to be the sanest person in the room. This in itself is an invitation to avoid conventional thinking, which is Lanthimos’s calling.

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