KINDS OF KINDNESS. Kinds of nonsense [REVIEW]

“Kinds of Kindness” feels like a sketch, a film exercise done in between larger projects. It can be a reflection on rejection and obedience.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

20 May 2024

kinds of kindness

In “Kinds of Kindness,” kindness is as scarce as cat’s tears. The title is ironically fitting, inappropriate, and out of place, which, incidentally, suits the overall essence of this project. Yorgos Lanthimos is interested in types of exploitation, types of violence, types of addictions, types of shame, and types of absurdity. It sounds very ambitious, but in essence, “Kinds of Kindness” is a casual play with form, an exploration of various oddities and events. They are arranged in some order, but they would work just as (un)effectively in a completely different one. With interpretive effort, one can extract recurring themes and variations from “Kinds of Kindness,” but delving into any of them quickly gives the impression of heading down a dead-end street.

The first novella is about a corporate drone (Jesse Plemons). His eccentric boss (Willem Dafoe) values issuing bizarre whims far more than discussing work. The subordinate owes everything to his superior, does not question crazy ideas, appreciates how his life is designed, and fulfilling his own needs always takes a backseat to the boss’s needs. A request to cause an accident (intended to result in the death of the other car’s driver) raises some doubts, but what wouldn’t one do to hear a kind word, to be appreciated for one’s dedication? It all hangs in the air and just happens. Don’t look for answers as to why. It’s merely a snippet from a bizarre universe. Without cause and without purpose.

In the second novella, a longing policeman (Jesse Plemons) waits for his wife (Emma Stone) to be found. She disappeared on a research expedition, and no trace of her remains. When she returns, she will be different, and their marriage will be put to the test. The husband asks his beloved to cut off her thumb and fry it for him in a pan. Does love and trust have its limits? In the third story, two members of a tear-drinking cult search for a girl from a dream. Dietary purity connects with sexual promiscuity. Obedience to the religious organization requires many sacrifices and is the meaning of existence. The mission seems important, but the rules governing the presented world have somehow evaporated.

“Kinds of Kindness” feels like a sketch, a film exercise done in between larger projects. It can be a reflection on rejection and obedience. To a superior, a husband to a wife, a wife to a husband, to a religious guru, and moral commandments. In each novella, the leading character starts to wander, and their internally ordered world begins to shift into irrational realms. From absurdity to absurdity. From abstraction to abstraction.

One might say this is the height of creativity. For me, however, it is creative laziness and the curse of licentia poetica. Because in “Kinds of Kindness,” absolutely anything can happen. We would have to accept and embrace it if at any moment, the clouds were to be cut by a flock of flying elephants or cars started dancing to a Britney Spears hit. Really, anything. Spinning further allegories gains significance if backed by narrative discipline and structural order. Symbols work if they reflect something, if they emerge somewhere incidentally and flow from the plot. Unfortunately, they are not as effective when they are the sole point of reference. Depth then becomes painfully superficial, showiness turns into gimmickry, and drama becomes a pose. The problem with “Kinds of Kindness” is not the triviality and innocence of the plot, but the sense of randomness and insignificance. Even if it is obvious that cinema is not necessarily essential to life.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Cinema took a long time to give us its greatest masterpiece, which is Brokeback Mountain. However, I would take the Toy Story series with me to a deserted island. I pay the most attention to animations and the festival in Cannes. There is only one art that can match cinema: football.

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