Kinds of Kindness

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Kinds of Kindness/Photo courtesy of Forum Film

Yorgos Lanthimos announces his intentions, or at least, some of them, loud and clear in the opening moments of his latest film, Kinds of Kindness, with the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. Lanthimos dazzles and intrigues in his pursuit of his own dreams and fantasies, as in Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Favourite and Poor Things – each film is a world unto itself, replete with precise detail, wry humor, a fierce desire to explore, and no fear of the dark. Yet despite their shared thematic urges, there is a distinctive difference between Lanthimos’ collaborations with Tony McNamara (The Favourite, Poor Things), and the films with Efthimis Filippou as screenwriter (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Alps), who co-wrote Kinds of Kindness. I enjoy the lush visuals and abundant detail – in imagery and characterization – of the former, yet there is a particular appeal to the more enigmatic characters that inhabit Kinds of Kindness, they capture one’s interest, raising myriad questions that linger in the mind long after the credits roll.

Kinds of Kindness is composed of three separate segments, with an ensemble cast portraying different characters in each one. In The Death of R.M.F., Robert (Jesse Plemons) is employed by Raymond (Willem Dafoe), who exerts complete control over Robert’s life, with detailed, handwritten instructions for each day. It’s no exaggeration to say that Raymond’s control is Godlike, while Robert, as the most ardent follower, is intent on demonstrating his devotion through his obedience. Raymond and Robert share a ten-year history to which the viewer is not privy, Raymond is mysterious, we do not know how or why this relationship began, yet it is fascinating to see how it may end. When Robert balks at Raymond’s latest request, he is coldly and calmly dismissed. Plemons excels in portraying Robert’s anguish as the guidance that ruled every moment of his days and nights is suddenly withheld. Free to make his own choices, Robert even has a hard time deciding what drink to order at the bar. It’s almost needless to say that he returns to the same bar that Raymond had him frequent. In his efforts to rebuild his life, he resorts to recreating scenes previously directed by Raymond, and the effect is both pathetic and comic. As extreme and bizarre as the situation, and Raymond’s requests, may be, Plemons depiction of Robert elicits one’s empathy, as well as possibly horror and derision. How strong is the need for love and approval? How far would a person go to regain that love once it is lost? Robert’s quandary invokes inevitable comparisons to relationships of love, abuse, religious faith, and perhaps too, the relationship of trust between a director and an audience.

The first segment is possibly the strongest and most relatable – even though I shudder to think that – and as the film progresses the characters and narratives become stranger and more violent. The second story, R.M.F. Is Flying, finds Plemons in the lead once more as Daniel, a police officer whose marine researcher wife Liz, is lost at sea. Daniel’s grief is overwhelming, and when his partner Neil (Mamoudou Athie) and wife Martha (Margaret Qualley) come over for dinner to keep him company and comfort him, the nostalgic comfort Daniel seeks results in the most hilarious scene in Kinds of Kindness. Miraculously, Liz (Emma Stone) is found and comes home, but, in a weird twist that just keeps getting more disturbing, Daniel suspects that the woman who has returned to him is not really Liz. Has there been some sinister substitution? Is Daniel losing his mind? Certainly, some of his behavior suggests a disconnect from reality. The balance of power, love, control and faith, are recurring themes throughout, as Plemons, once more, carries the emotional weight of this narrative, taking the viewer down a harrowing path.

Plemons takes a step back in the final story, as Andrew, the partner to Emily (Emma Stone), both cult members tasked with finding a person with unique abilities. The cult is led by Omi (Willem Dafoe) and Aka (Hong Chau) with eerie calm, and strict guidelines. There are moments of great beauty in this segment, as when Omi and Aka nurture their followers, weeping into a pool from which the devotees then fill their flasks. Emily remains enigmatic as one views her actions and surmises her motivations. Dedicated to the cause and the search, yet she secretly contrives to sneak looks, and even visits the husband and daughter she left behind. This is by far the most violent of the three stories, in its depiction of a cruel betrayal of trust, and in the lengths to which a person will go to demonstrate devotion (with unsettling echoes of Margaret Qualley singing How Deep is Your Love), and in the way that violence is sometimes as random as it is brutal. Still, I loved watching Emily careen around in her purple car, swerving erratically into the motel parking lot time and again. It’s a burst of colorful exuberance in a regimented life.

Kinds of Kindness is an unsettling film, riveting, disturbing, and with its own dark humor and quirky beauty. In its depiction of extreme situations, it’s an exploration of our need for love, and the things we are willing to do for love, that touches on the security that one may find in conformity and convention, and the illusory quality of that security.

Kinds of Kindness

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos; Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou; Cinematography: Robbie Ryan; Editor: Yorgos Mavropsaridis; Music: Jerskin Fendrix; Cast: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie, Hunter Schafer

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