The Discreet Absurdity of Kinds of Kindness

The Discreet Absurdity of Kinds of Kindness

After two cinema screenings, I think I have words to talk about Yorgos Lanthimos' new film, Kinds of Kindness - even though we might all be in danger after this.

Quick disclaimer: I don't usually include spoilers in my readings, but for the sake of overanalyzing everything, especially these kinds of films, there will be some spoilers here, so continue at your own risk. 

Even before May 28, 2024, when I first watched the film at a special screening at the Athinaion Cinema on Vasilisis Sofias Str. in Athens, each trailer gradually immersed me in the film's universe. It will take a long time to get out of my head the very first teaser trailer that starts with Emma Stone's voice saying "This is it. The moment of truth." and then followed by Eurythmics's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". One accomplishment of Searchlight Pictures' marketing team is that none of the trailers revealed too much of what to expect from the film.

The fact that we were watching the masterpiece called Poor Things on the big screen just a few months ago will undoubtedly influence our perception of every Lanthimos' film we see in the near future - both in a good and a bad way. And you know what? It doesn't matter at all. In fact, it's precisely what should happen for an artist at the peak of his career.

This is not an unbiased critique - actually not a critique at all -, particularly since I have a subjective view of Yorgos Lanthimos' filmography. Nevertheless, while there are some of his films that I don't adore as much as others (Kinetta & Alps, I'm looking at you), I believe Kind of Kindness is a flawless film about the perplexity of human existence and the acts we do for freedom, even if it doesn't appeal to everyone. Let's not forget that these two hours and forty-four minutes - the longest film by Lanthimos to date - are packed with dark comedic narratives, symbolism, allegory, surrealism and also, excessive unrealism. But, let's start from the beginning. 

The triptych fable

So, what's all these Kinds of Kindness? Three stories, simultaneously linked and independent, each exploring themes of power, free will, unconventional love, control, dreams, dualities, choices, food, and sex. This anthology, written by Efthymis Filippou (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer etc.) and Yorgos Lanthimos, transports us to a unique lanthim-universe where people converse in a particular manner, ponder before they speak, and behave like well-programmed beings. In this realm, each character acts according to their beliefs, and show their devotion to one another in a bid to liberate themselves, driven by their individual motivations. 

The three stories follow each other, title to end credits, without a clear or specific chronological order. At least it's not obvious at first glance. Their sole link is a man named R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos). In an interview promoting the film, Lanthimos mentioned that he doesn't know either what these initials mean. I'm not sure if I believe him, and perhaps it doesn't matter – even though I tend to overanalyze everything in these films that prompt a Google search of "...ending explained". An additional and very intriguing aspect of the film is the repeated use of the same actors. Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie and Joe Alwyn appear in all three stories, and Hunter Schafer - who only appears in the last story. 

The repetition of actors in different roles for each story, as Lanthimos has noted, fosters a sense of intimacy for the viewer amid otherwise uncomfortable situations. This interplay of opposing forces creates a unique feeling rarely found in other existential and allegorically absurd films. It evokes a sense of intimacy alongside alienation, a dynamic that can frequently occur in our lives as well. Just as many events unfold in the film, each story also mirrors this dynamic. However, it might be more insightful to examine each story individually.


The Death of R.M.F.

The opening credits roll, and Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" begins to play. Just as you're about to sing along and dance to the rhythm, the music abruptly stops, and the first "Kind" unfolds. On the first story titled "The Death of R.M.F." we follow Robert (Jesse Plemons), a businessman with a very settled life who is called upon to perform a car accident, something that has been forced by his employer, Raymond (Willem Dafoe). When things don't go as planned, Robert will face Raymond, whose meticulously scheduled daily life and role as a husband bring about consequences Robert never anticipated. 

He will start to question the godlike Raymond in his eyes, make futile attempts to escape his daily routine, and struggle to cope with the void left by his wife, who has now left him after he revealed the entire truth about their relationship. Robert is shaken when Raymond also rejects him after he refuses to fulfill his wish, and he "accidentally" encounters Rita (Emma Stone)—or rather, he "accidentally" bumps into her—who appears to have been influenced by Raymond for the very same purpose.

Robert appears to have everything a man could desire: a large house, rare sports collectibles, a good job, and a loving wife. Everything seems idyllic until his "conscience" arrives in a black BMW, just before the book of Anna Karenina ends. Now that he is supposedly free, is he truly liberated? Are any of us genuinely free when we strongly desire a routine, a familiar situation, or a job that provides security and comfort? To what extent do we allow others to influence us and wield power over our lives in order to be loved and feel safe? 

R.M.F is Flying

In the second story, we delve deeper into the sacrifices one might make for acceptance and love. Here, a police officer named Daniel (Jesse Plemons) is grappling with the disappearance of his wife Liz (Emma Stone), who seems to have vanished off the coast. Overwhelmed by sadness and troubled by her loss, he attempts to recreate aspects of his daily life that remind him of her. This includes inviting his colleague and his wife over to their house for dinner, Liz-talk and watching the sex-tapes they used to make all together. 

When Liz unexpectedly returns to their home, Daniel begins to suspect that she is not the woman he once knew but rather an imitation. Her habits and preferences, like avoiding chocolate, have changed, as she now craves it. Her unusual sexual appetites and the alterations in their daily life lead Daniel to stop eating altogether. Eventually, he resolves to start consuming "pieces" of Liz, determined to go to extremes to prove that this apparent Liz is not truly his wife.

In this story, several events unfold that leave us, as viewers, uncertain about what is truly happening—much like life itself. Behind every closed door, no one knows what really goes on. It makes me wonder: what happens when life changes us, and we must adapt in return? How many conflicts and misunderstandings could be avoided with better communication? Do we, others, or ultimately everyone change, but at different times, in different directions, and in different ways? How far would we go to find the love we believe we deserve?

R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich

If you ask me, after two viewings of the film, the third story is the most complicated and the one I have analyzed the most. Somehow, the truth is that the way the stories are arranged "chronologically" in the film makes it, for me, proportionately more complex. 

In this final and most distinctive story, we follow Emily (Emma Stone), a member of a sexual cult, who is on a mission to find a specific woman destined to become their spiritual leader. Emily, along with Andrew (Jesse Plemons), another member of the cult led by Omi (Willem Dafoe), are searching for a woman who has a deceased twin sister and matches specific dimensions, height, and weight. In the world of this story, water is scarce, and the struggle to keep it uncontaminated relies on the unique tears of Omi (Willem Dafoe) and Aka (Hong Chau), and in members' abstinence from sex, apart from the cult itself. 

At the same time, Emily secretly but regularly visits her home, where her husband Joseph (Joe Alwyn) and their young daughter live. To Joseph, it appears that Emily has abandoned them, yet he never seems angry about it. When he insists on Emily coming to their house again, he takes the opportunity to sexually exploit and rape her while she's half-passed out from the pills he put in her drink. The next morning, as Emily tries to leave quickly and unnoticed, Omi, Aka, and Andrew are waiting outside the house to initiate their formal procedure. Now contaminated and ostracized by the cult, Emily must find her own path to freedom while continuing to search for the gifted woman.

As I write these words and contemplate theories about this story, I realize that the journey to a woman's liberation is particularly arduous, filled with obstacles, and, as history has shown, often does not have a happy ending. Every decision we make impacts the next, and if only our own decisions affected us, would we be happier, or would we live a monotonous life? Goals, dreams, work, acceptance, freedom—these words and concepts are ultimately interconnected, whether we like it or not. Without one, the others do not follow.

Everybody is Looking for Something

This entire world, filled with stories created by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, can seem utterly foreign, absurd, excessive, dystopian, uncomfortable, strange, and cynical. Fun fact: Lanthimos in one of his interview mentioned that originally there were 10 stories, that rounded up to final 3. Certainly, the world and its stories—our stories—aren't exactly like that. But, in some ways, they are, or resemble them. Absurd things happen around us that we can't fully explain. We have dreams, just like every hero in these Kinds of Kindness, and we strive to connect them with our lives, with our truth. Everybody is looking for something. The real question is, what are they looking for? Is it acceptance? Love? Freedom? Perhaps, in all our desires, we are ultimately searching for ourselves. 

Honestly, I'm not sure if I had any specific expectations before, during, or after watching the movie. As a fan of the genre, I went in with enough knowledge to expect that I probably wouldn't dislike what I was about to see, even though I knew my opinion might not align with everyone else's. The truth is, I wasn't searching for anything in particular. I found myself contemplating deeply as I watched—laughing at moments of dark humor and feeling deeply moved by the portrayal of something simultaneously real and dystopian. The fact that I haven't stop thinking about it, speaks for itself.

If Lanthimos achieves anything with his films, it's to provoke thought. His intent isn't just to provoke for the sake of it; rather, he challenges every viewer to perceive life from a different angle, to break free from routine, and to shed societal constraints. His films aren't for everyone, but that's not his aim either; instead, it speaks volumes about his approach and what he seeks to convey—to encourage viewers to reflect deeply. Fortunately, his absurd perspective isn't solely reliant on discreet on-screen elements; he doesn't need to shout to effectively convey his message. It only takes to... open your eyes, and look clearly at what's going on around you.

Photo Credits: Searchlight Pictures, Atsushi "Jima" Nishijima | Poster Credits: Vasilis Marmatakis


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