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Kimi ★★★

Availability: Now available streaming on many platforms, including HBOMax (where it originated), AppleTV, and Amazon Prime; see JustWatch here for more sources.

Sex, Lies, and Kimi

Steven Soderbergh’s “Kimi” lacks the smoldering subtlety of his 1989 master work, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” (winner of the Palme d’Or), but this, his 49th film, is the closest he’s come to a sequel. There’s not much sex (although it curiously underpins and pervades the film), plenty of lies, and an interest in how the media shapes our lives. This time we’re well beyond videotapes and into the way technology and the Internet penetrate our living rooms and our bedrooms. Kimi is the film’s version of those familiar presences: Siri and Alexa.

At the center of the melodrama is Angela (Zoë Kravitz), who closely resembles Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s Swedish crime novels: she has a high level of technical expertise and physical fitness, keeps men at arm’s length (except when she doesn’t), is obsessive-compulsive, and lacks the emotions, even during and after sex, that one normally associates with healthy personalities. Even her appearance and way of being—thin, blue hair, savvy, intense, confrontational—evoke Salander.

Trapped as she is, like photographer L.B. Jefferies

in “Rear Window” (1954), Angela (Zoë Kravitz, right) spends a lot of time

looking out her window

(and being looked at).

A captive of her agoraphobia, Angela works from her stunning and spacious Seattle loft-apartment (we aren’t told how a tech worker can afford that) for Amygdala (yup, the part of the brain that governs emotions), the company that produces Kimi. Her job is to examine and correct the errors that Kimi makes in understanding commands or questions, reprogramming the device as she does so. Trapped as she is, like photographer L.B. Jefferies in “Rear Window” (1954), Angela spends a lot of time looking out her window (and being looked at), in scenes that are both foreshadowing and misleading, adding to the film’s ambiguity. The set-up is entertaining and intriguing, revealing the way technology strips us of our privacy and can as easily be used for evil as for good.


What could be just a thriller—and it is that, in spades, with a long, tension-filled sequence (running, chases, narrow escapes)—is also a story of revenge.


Because Kimi has (limited) surveillance capabilities, Angela discovers, in scenes that call to mind “Blow-Up” (1966), what she perceives to be crimes—of assault, rape, and murder. Because Angela has experienced her own, related, trauma—presented in a vague, off-handed way, and by implication through our knowledge that Angela has a therapist—her efforts to report the crimes become something of a personal crusade. What could be just a thriller—and it is that, in spades, with a long, tension-filled sequence (running, chases, narrow escapes)—is also a story of revenge.

Revenge films can make one uncomfortable. Surely one ought to turn the other cheek, or seek redress through traditional channels. But if done right, the revenge narrative can also produce a cathartic, and even pleasurable, moment for the viewer as well as the protagonist. At least some radical feminists must have appreciated “I Spit on Your Grave” (1978), a controversial, over-the-top film featuring a young woman who strikes back in horrific ways at a series of men who have damaged her. Closer to the mark is Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” (2019), in which a poolside flame thrower brings welcome reassurance that justice has been done. Angela’s version of that scene, cleverly foreshadowed in a way that Chekhov has taught us, takes place in her apartment, with echoes of a blind Audrey Hepburn outwitting the bad guys in “Wait Until Dark” (1967).

As emotionally satisfying as these final scenes are, they also raise issues that are at the heart of the film: can a traumatic experience (the film reveals little about what happened to Angela) be expected to produce obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and extreme emotional withdrawal? Can an act of violent retribution cancel a traumatic past, as the film seems to suggest, with Angela becoming a blonde and jauntily heading outside, to the food truck, for breakfast? Is it realistic to believe that Angela can find a way to “heal thyself,” while rejecting every form of the therapeutic—her mother, her therapist, her dentist, her (sort of) boyfriend Terry’s friendship, and a Romanian tech wiz who wants to help her (unfortunately stereotyped as a heavy drinker and womanizer).

Beyond these questions about the validity of its thematic structure, the film’s contrivances, and secondary characters who are either stereotypes or undeveloped, will trouble some viewers. Angela’s discovery that the perp is someone she knows, or knows of, stretches credulity even as it enriches the plot. Given her high-tech knowledge, wouldn’t Angela realize, early on, that she could be located through her cell phone? Just as unlikely is the setting of the penultimate scenes: why would the “thugs” chasing Angela decide to wrap things up in her apartment? The crafty misdirection of those “rear window” scenes also has a cloying side, as if Soderbergh were toying with his audience: will the creepy-looking guy with binoculars across the way turn out to be really a creep?

Above, Zoë Kravitz as the Lisbeth Salander-like, tech-savvy Angela

at her computer in her spacious Seattle loft.

Some of Soderbergh’s recent films, including “No Sudden Move” (2021) and “Logan Lucky” (2017), have been less than captivating. With “Kimi” he returns to his roots—his “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” roots, anyway—with a compelling story, briefly and briskly told, again exploring the dangerous reach of modern technology while raising (albeit briefly and somewhat superficially) contemporary issues associated with sexual assault, all held together by a powerful performance by Kravitz. Welcome back, Steven.


Date: 2022

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Zoë Kravitz, Byron Bowers, Rita Wilson, Alex Dobrenko, Robin Givens

Country: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 89 minutes

Other Awards: One nomination to date

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