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  • Benjamin May

Kinds Of Kindness (2024) Review

Over the last twenty years, Yorgos Lanthimos has cultivated an approach to filmmaking all his own. Like David Lynch, he has developed a singular, instantly identifiable style, which will, no doubt, one day be- if it is not already- referred to as Lanthimosian. Generally speaking, his films, though varied, usually explore power dynamics, featuring characters who speak in monotone, dialogue that is slightly unreal and darkly-comic narratives containing both bloodshed and nudity.

‘Kinds of Kindness’ bears all the hallmarks of his style. An anthology film- or triptych, as it is billed- its thematic content is open to numerous interpretations; the most obvious being control, as, in each of the three stories, it is examined in some form. In the first, a man tries to stand up to his domineering boss, with disastrous results. In the second, a policeman who is losing control of his life after the disappearance of his wife, finds things stranger upon her return. In the third and last, a woman working for a cult tries to find an individual who has power over life and death.

With each tale, the case can be made that Lanthimos is examining a different aspect of control with regard to power dynamics and family structures. In the opening segment, Lanthimos explores the theme of subjugation and rebellion, highlighting the delicate balance between asserting oneself and the risks involved in challenging authority. Furthermore, once free of the controlling structure he had grown subconsciously comfortable in, the protagonist seeks to regain his subjugated position- a poignant exploration of agency and longing.

In the second story the interconnecting notions of power, manipulation and the illusion of control are explored, as the policeman desperately tries to control and restructure a situation he does not recognise, nor has power over. The irrational demands he makes of his wife in order for her to demonstrate her love to him reveal the lengths one can go to maintain control and stability in the face of perceived chaos.

The third story raises questions about the limits of human agency, following a woman who has voluntarily given up control of her life to a cult and, like the protagonist in the first story, tries to regain her subjugated position, once free. Perhaps Lanthimos is examining fears associated with autonomy, of agency and desire.

However, while control appears thematically in each of the stories, there could be more at play. One could, perhaps, see the film as a religious allegory, with the three stories mirroring the ideas of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Lanthimos may be inviting viewers to explore fears associated with autonomy and desire through this lens.

On the other hand, considering the sacrifice of autonomy for comfort or survival becomes a recurring motif; might the film be primarily about just that: sacrifice? Or is it merely concerned with how manipulation, dominance and submission intersect? The film’s digressive structure allows ideas such as these to unfold without arriving at tidy conclusions, leaving room for as many abstractions and interpretations as there are viewers.

Whatever the case, the stories are entertaining and darkly funny, full of the deliciously weird Lanthimosian dialogue many have come to love. However, as each are so engaging, it is a pity that they are not three individual, full-length films in their own right. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou could have expanded any of them into a stand-alone feature and, by doing so, heightened their power and impact considerably.

Despite this, ‘Kinds of Kindness’ remains engaging and thought-provoking, boasting assured, grounded visuals that heighten the narrative’s strangeness. Lanthimos and director of photography Robbie Ryan film proceedings with realism in mind, avoiding flashy stylisations and unconventional camera angles. This juxtaposition between the natural cinematography and the inherent oddness of the narrative is both atmospheric and effective.

Furthermore, Jerskin Fendrix’s score contributes greatly to the film’s atmosphere. Full of sinister choral chants, like the singing of a group of mad monks, it adds an element of suspense and drama, complementing the visuals and the narrative. In addition, Anthony Gasparro’s production design, as well as Amy Beth Silver’s minimalistic set decoration and Jennifer Johnson’s muted costume design, are immersive, drawing viewers further in to Lanthimos’s odd world, emphasising the uncanny.

The film features some of Lanthimos’s frequent collaborators, such as Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Yorgos Stefanakos and Margaret Qualley, alongside newcomers to his oeuvre, like Jesse Plemons and Hong Chau. All play multiple characters across the three stories- bar Stefanakos- and excel in each. Plemons showcases his versatility, bringing a decency and humanity to even the cruellest of men. Stone, meanwhile, proves yet again that she is a perfect fit for Lanthimos’s material, inhabiting her disparate, bizarre roles with a remarkable ease and naturality.

In addition, Dafoe demonstrates once more why many consider him one of the finest actors working today, bringing authenticity to three markedly different personalities; from the good and the bad to the ugly. Furthermore, Qualley and Chau both bring life to smaller roles, showcasing their considerable abilities, while Stefanakos- totally mute- has a strong screen presence, making his enigmatic character all the more intriguing.

Darkly funny and overwhelmingly odd, ‘Kinds of Kindness’ is a typically Lanthimosian venture. Featuring three entertaining tales of madness, control and manipulation, it is utterly unique. Boasting striking cinematography, as well as a stirring, sinister score, one won’t easily forget it. With strong performances from all in the cast- especially Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe- and comically off-beat dialogue, it is all kinds of weird- and all kinds of wonderful.


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