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‘Kinds of Kindness’: A Triptych of Love and Cruelty

Yorgos Lanthimos Kinds of Kindness
Credit: Yorgos Lanthimos, Searchlight Pictures

Following the smash success of his film Poor Things, director Yorgos Lanthimos is back with another strange and mystifying film. Kinds Of Kindness brings back writer Efthymis Filippou, writer of Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dogtooth and The Lobster. This newest entry into his filmography harks back to these works, creating a captivatingly uncomfortable and deranged world.

The film is described as a “Triptych Fable”; Lanthimos utilizes the same group of A-list actors for three separate stories connected by common themes. Over the nearly three hour runtime, Lanthimos explores bizarre relationships, perversion and body horror, while ruminating on themes of love and control.

The three segments are titled “The Death of R.M.F”, “R.M.F. is Flying” and “R.M.F. Eats A Sandwich.” Each story is distinct, and I will delve into each separately in this article. Keep reading for a full breakdown of Kinds of Kindness, including spoilers.

The Death of R.M.F.

Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in Kinds of Kindness directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in Kinds of Kindness. Credit: Searchlight Pictures

This first story follows Robert (Jesse Plemons), a married man working for his controlling boss, Raymond (Willem Dafoe). He controls Robert’s entire life: deciding what he wears, what he eats, and how much he weighs. When Raymond asks him to get into a car crash, killing a man named R.M.F. who has agreed to die, Robert refuses. This single refusal causes Raymond to end his decade long relationship with Robert.

Robert meets Rita (Emma Stone), another victim of Raymond who has agreed to perform the same horrible task. The film follows Robert’s desperation as he finds himself lost, alone, and groveling for forgiveness.

This first story sets the theme for the Triptych: people will do anything for love. Raymond’s predicates his love on what a person can do for him, molding the object of his affection to his liking. He does not love people as they are. Not everyone is assertive about what they want and/or deserve—but everyone desires love.

People allow themselves to be controlled and harmed, afraid that if they don’t comply, they will no longer receive love. The cycle of abuse is shown powerfully in his relationship with Rita. Her mirrored abuse shows that to Raymond, Robert was disposable. Raymond will continue his abuse on anyone in order to fulfill his selfish desires. This story speaks both to unhealthy romantic relationships and the exploitation of workers by the upper class.

In this first story, Jesse Plemons’ performance shines perhaps the most out of any of the three. His meek, pathetic character devolving into complete madness and desperation is incredibly convincing. Willem Dafoe plays an unexpectedly sinister role, where their one—sided relationship becomes uncomfortably erotic and deranged.

The atmosphere created through very intentional and subtly uncomfortable dialogue really drives home the themes at play here. The sound design in this section is particularly dissonant and memorable, characterized by unnerving piano key-smashing. Dialogue feels stilted throughout to convey our compulsion to be polite despite feelings of disdain and exhaustion. Characters will show cruelty and follow it up with a polite “good morning” or “good evening.”

The idea that kindness can be a form of manipulation, and cruelty can look like love, is perhaps most well-formed in this first fable. Overall, “The Death of R.M.F.” stands out as perhaps the most well constructed world and emotional payoff in the film.

R.M.F. is Flying

Emma Stone in Kinds of Kindness. Credit: Searchlight Pictures

The second story follows Daniel, a police officer (Jesse Plemons) and his wife Liz, (Emma Stone). The story begins with Plemons distraught over his wife having gone missing. He invites two friends over and asks them in tears to watch a video with him. They reluctantly agree, revealing the video to be porn with Liz before her disappearance.

Liz is found and brought home in a helicopter piloted by R.M.F. Upon her return, Daniel quickly becomes inexplicably convinced that this woman is not his wife, but an imposter. His erratic behavior leads to the police force suspending him, and he begins to take anti-psychotics. Liz tries to garner some kindness from him after this traumatic event to no avail. When she tries to feed him, he refuses for days on end. He begins asking that she mutilate herself and feed him parts of her body.

This section is perhaps the most emotionally gripping of the triptych. Plemons is absolutely haunting, while Stone gives a tragically powerful performance. This story serves as an incredible example of how victims of abuse justify the cruelty they endure. Liz defends Daniel, seeming to believe by admitting the milk is spoiled, she shows ingratitude for it once being good. Daniel was a good husband, and she clings to hope that the love he once had for her will return. This story shows how people will destroy themselves for even the hope of receiving love, especially when deprived of it.

Plemons’ character shows the cruelty one can inflict when they’ve fallen out of love. Additionally, the shocking dinner scene at the start of the story shows another example of weaponized politeness in the film. His friends try to refuse to watch the video, expressing explicit discomfort, but oblige due to his guilting them. In order to grieve his lost wife, his chosen memory was an orgy they partook in together. Perhaps to him, she was more of an object than someone he ever loved completely.

All in all, this section struggled with pacing at times, but thematically was incredibly touching. This is, shockingly, feels at times like the most “mundane” section of the film and will probably be many viewer’s least favorite. However, the body horror felt intentional and purposeful rather than for shock value, and Stone’s monologues were devastating and perfectly performed. The way this section captured the psychological torment of abuse and the lengths we will go to receive affection was incredibly powerful. 

R.M.F. Eats A Sandwich

Emma Stone in Kinds of Kindness. Credit: Searchlight Pictures

The third and final section of the triptych follows Emily (Emma Stone) and Andrew (Jesse Plemons). The two are members of a sex cult, led by Omi (Willem Dafoe) and his wife (Hong Chau). The two are on a mission to find a woman who is able to revive a corpse, as she will be the replacement leader after Omi passes.

Emily is trapped between a troubled ex-husband and young daughter, and her desperation to complete her mission for the cult. Her desperation to complete her quest for this fanatical religious group drives her to extreme lengths.

This part of the film is the most mystical and strange. Lanthimos captures the ridiculous nature of cults and how they manipulate members for their most basic desires with unnerving wit. Stone’s performance makes this character one of the most distinctly memorable of the whole film. The complex relationship between Joseph and Emily is gutting but speaks to the nature of abuse and who cults choose to target.

This is one of the most stylistically interesting and shocking sections of the film. We hear intense and powerful choir music throughout this section, mimicking the frantic nature of Emily’s character, and the grandiosity she feels about her mission. The costume design throughout is incredibly clever and fitting to each distinct character. Costume Designer Jennifer Johnson says in an interview with Bazaar about Emily’s costume, “she is dressed like a detective. She goes out into the world and wears the cheapest suit she can find at the mall—it’s kind of like the uniforms that door-to-door Mormons wear as she’s trying to recruit. That suit is her pretending that she’s not weird” (Harpers Bazaar).

All in all, this story is particularly bizarre and disturbing, potentially alienating some viewers. However, Emma Stone’s character is thought-provoking and complex. Lanthimos allows the viewer to explore the psyche of a cult member with both hilarity and empathy.

Conclusion

Jesse Plemons in Kinds of Kindness. Credit: Searchlight Pictures.

In conclusion, Kinds of Kindness is a captivatingly strange entry in Yorgos Lanthimos’ filmography. He shows his strengths as a filmmaker bridging both bizarre and disturbing ideas with truly thought-provoking and emotional themes. The film is shocking, but the shock feels intentional, meaningful and well-executed. The stand-out performances and seamless transitions between distinct characters done by all of the actors on screen is mesmerizing.

As we’ve seen before in his films with Filippou, Lanthimos creates a uniquely uncomfortable world that completely unnerves and fascinates the viewer. However, with this newest film he is more ambitious than ever, improving on his signature style by delving more completely into his ideas. If you’re open to the shockingly strange three-hour adventure, this is absolutely a film worth seeing on the big screen.

Written By

Hi! I’m a full time screenwriting student writing for Trill Magazine with a passion for film, music and fashion!

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