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Kinds of Kindness  ★★1/2

Availability: Will be released into theaters in US and UK June 21, 2024; no streaming information at this time. See JustWatch here for future streaming availability.


Three Not-So-Easy Pieces


Having achieved more than modest success with “Poor Things” (2023, nominated for Oscar for Best Motion Picture, earned a best actress Oscar for Emma Stone), Yorgos Lanthimos has pushed the envelope, and tried our patience, with “Kinds of Kindness,” 3 stories (and almost 3 hours) that have little to do with kindness and much to do with Lanthimos’ obsession with sado-masochism, a theme introduced over the opening credits by a car radio playing at high volume Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”: “some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused.” Each of the stories has its own end-credits, presumably to seal them off from each other; and all use the same ensemble of actors (though playing different roles), foremost among them Stone, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Plemons (who won Best Actor at Cannes for this film), Margaret Qualley (also in “Poor Things”), and Hong Chau (nominated for an Oscar for 2022’s “The Whale”).


Above, Vivian (Margaret Qualley), left, and Raymond (Willem Dafoe), right, bring Robert (Jesse Plemons) back into the fold after he carries out Raymond's dictates. The dominator and the dominated need each other.


 

Raymond (Dafoe) is a narcissistic bully, dictating every aspect, no matter how minute, of Robert’s (Plemons) life.

 

Lanthimos’ obsession goes well beyond the dress-in-leather, whips-and-pain stereotype of sexual sado-masochism. In Story 1­—“The Death of RMF”—Raymond (Dafoe) is a narcissistic bully, dictating every aspect, no matter how minute, of Robert’s (Plemons) life, whether it’s juice for breakfast, when to have sex, or requiring that Robert ram a van at high speed into a BMW sedan occupied by mystery character RMF. Inexplicably (Lanthimos cares little about causation), Robert is a willing participant who values being controlled and dominated, having his life programmed in detail.


Above, Emma Stone in Story 3 as the somewhat automaton-like Emily, whose emotional makeup is revealed in her driving her car at high speeds.


In Story 3—“RMF Eats a Sandwich” (you’ll have to sit through the final credits to see that)—Dafoe plays a similar dominator, Omi, the leader of a cult that seeks to find a woman who must be a virgin, have a dead twin, possess nipples a certain distance apart, and who is capable of raising the dead. In stomach-turning Story 2—"RMF Is Flying”—the role of the sadist is occupied by Plemons, a paranoid, ultimately demonic cop who is convinced that his wife (Stone) isn’t really his wife, Liz, and insists she perform disgusting acts that will make you turn away—or turn against Lanthimos. Story 2 is a mini-horror film.

 

Food is central to the development of the Lanthimos’ paradigm of power and submission.

 

Working off the parent/child experience—and films that include “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” (1989)—food is central to the development of the Lanthimos’ paradigm of power and submission. Plemons’ character in Story 1 is told he’s too thin and has food forced on him. Despite a reduced role in Story 2, Dafoe’s George instructs a child eating a piece of fruit, “you’ve had enough.” There’s watering rationing (Story 3), a raw steak scene, and one with liver, invoking “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) and other “dis-taste-ful” films with a high “ick” factor. Kinky sex runs through the three narratives as well.







Right, Raymond (Dafoe) and Vivian (Qualley) may look like ordinary rich people, but they are anything but.









In all the stories, Stone’s character lacks any semblance of free will, as does Plemons’. Playing Rita in Story 1, Stone replaces Robert as Raymond’s lackey; as Emily in Story 3, she’s a helpless, even pitiful follower of Omi’s cult, and to add insult to injury is drugged and raped by her not-so-ex-husband; and in Story 2 (again, inexplicably—her actions go well beyond a penchant for masochism), she obediently violates and defiles her body.

 

The control, the grossness, the kinkiness—all seem gratuitous.

 

Lanthimos has explored issues of control in all his recent films. In “The Favourite” (2018) Stone figured prominently as a new court servant who gains control over the queen. But “Kinds of Kindness” operates in the stratosphere of dominance and manipulation. Its creepiness quotient is up there with his “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017, script co-written by Efthimis Filippou, as is this one), with Barry Keoghan gaining control over a family and orchestrating an unthinkable dilemma and “solution.” Unlike “Poor Things,” which managed to merge the horrific (Dafoe as the crazed scientist, creating his own monster) with humor, defiance, and rebellion, this latest effort is never funny, and its only hint of rebellion is Robert’s initial refusal to carry out Raymond’s egregious and murderous directive. The control, the grossness, the kinkiness—all seem gratuitous.


One can’t help but wonder if Lanthimos isn’t as devious as Stone in “The Favourite,” Keoghan in “Sacred Deer,” and Dafoe in “Poor Things” and now in “Kinds of Kindness”: pressuring, manipulating, exploiting, threatening and abusing his audience, pushing movie-goers to the brink with his mix of horror and sadism,  wondering whether they’ll have the guts—the free will, the self-determination, the moxie—to talk back to the filmmaker, to say enough is enough. To get out of their seats, and leave.


 

Date: 2024

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau

Countries: United Kingdom, Ireland (filmed in New Orleans)

Language: English

Runtime: 164 minutes

Other Awards: One win (Best Actor at Cannes for Plemons) and 2 other nominations (including Lanthimos for Cannes’ Palme d’Or) to date.

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