Kinds of Kindness

Director: Yogos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Hong Chau and Margaret Qualley
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Runtime: 164 mins. Reviewed in Jul 2024
Reviewer: Peter W Sheehan
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Strong themes, violence, sexual violence and sex scenes

This is a dark comedy that depicts three stories about human ‘longing’. The characters are gripped by pathological devotion, and the stories explore the moral limits of human behaviour.
Characters in this surreal film are connected loosely. The first story is of a nervous businessman, called Robert (Plemons), who is totally subservient to Raymond (Dafoe), his boss. Raymond’s request that Robert murder someone pushes Robert to the limits of his compulsive obedience.
In the second story, Plemons is an unfaithful policeman, whose wife, Liz (Stone) is a maritime researcher, who disappears while on a diving expedition. She returns, but her husband claims his wife has been replaced by a double – an imposter. The third and final story depicts Stone and Plemons as disciples of a religious, sexually promiscuous cult led by Dafoe and Chau.
Across the three scenarios, the same ensemble cast is involved in what happens, and similar psychological torments are apparent. Stone and Plemons take turns to lead, with Plemons earning the Cannes Film Festival’s 2024 Award for Best Male Actor.
The film is a macabre triptych with common threads. The film offers tragic tales that are projected as humorous in a grim way. In each story, Lanthimos displays his unique style of direction. Story 2, for example, shows cannibalism and sadism and Lanthimos associates his themes with deadpan dialogue, that is intended to be funny (but isn’t). The extreme length of the movie (164 minutes) makes viewers feel they are being asked to work out the meaning of random happenings, and in all of the stories, so-called humanity is the target for doing terrible things. The film’s themes are reinforced by the same people behaving badly, and human love is linked reliably to humiliating submission to coercive control. The film exposes viewers to scenes of sexual violence, sexual lust, cannibalism, blood sucking, drug addiction, murder, sadism, infidelity and animal cruelty.
This is a visually confronting film, but one that Lanthimos carefully directs. All stories distress and disturb. The same actors are in them; the stories are set in present-day US; and Lanthimos’s direction turns human desire into behaviour that is pathologically chaotic. Lanthimos is too significant a director (his film, Poor Things won Venice’s Film Festival award in 2023), for viewers not to accept that his style of direction is entirely calculated. His scenarios are too bizarre to be funny, but real enough to be genuinely horrifying. In each story, the film takes characters to the brink of madness by offering unnerving stories about the abandonment of human morality.

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