What ‘Kinds of Kindness’ Do You Feel?

“Kinds of Kindness” dives into themes of obsession, religion and companionship through an avante-garde approach

“Kinds of Kindness” is an auteur’s anthology on love’s intoxication.

Directed and co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos, “Kinds of Kindness” explores the abusive variables of affection.

Comprising three short films following one after the other, “Kinds of Kindness” dives into themes of obsession, religion and companionship through an avante-garde approach. The stories from Lanthimos (“Poor Things,” “The Lobster”) harbor an ensemble cast who are reused in various roles.

The first of the three shorts, “The Death of R.M.F.” follows a businessman named Robert trying to take ownership of his life. Led by Jesse Plemons, the opening short sets the feature’s tone with an unsettling yet intriguing narrative filled with offbeat comedy and devotional metaphors.

As Robert, Plemons (“Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Civil War”) plays a man in literal love with his work. Micromanaged by his enigmatic boss Raymond, played by Willem Dafoe, Robert grapples with his individuality when given a task he can’t perform.

With each assignment, Raymond lovingly rewards those who adhere to him. Robert’s balance for autonomy against devotion is reminiscent of Old Testament consequences to disobeying a vindictive God.

The second short, “R.M.F. is Flying,” continues themes of harmful devotion through the lens of marriage. With dual leads in Jesse Plemons and Emma Stone as policeman Daniel and marine biologist Liz, the plot follows the swinger-couple working to trust one another after a traumatic incident.

The first short harbors its own idiosyncrasies in presentation and characters, but the second borders supernatural with its undertones of paranoia and cannibalism. The second short also alludes to abusive expectations — the notion that a loving partner will cut out pieces of themself for the other’s approval.

The final short film, “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,” is seemingly a mix of both themes, albeit with a more plot-heavy structure. Focused on Stone (“La La Land,” “Birdman”) as sex-cultist Emily, the film follows her search for a deemed messiah while coping with the remnants of an abusive marriage.

Featuring Plemons as her search partner Andrew, the two aim to please their idol and commune leader Omi, played again by Dafoe (“The Lighthouse” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Toeing the line between her past and current life, Emily experiences methods of cruel control spanning sexual violence to community ostracization.

While stylistically and narratively distinct, the shorts are connected by recurring motifs and cast members. Margaret Qualley, Houng Chau, Mamoudou Athie, Joe Alwyn and Hunter Schafer populate the shorts as secondary characters. Yorgos Stefanakos as the eponymous R.M.F. repeatedly appears as a mystery-man, ambivalent to the surrounding stories.

Uniting “Kinds of Kindness” allegorically are its themes of sexuality, violence and psychological control. Compounding these themes are repeated phrases regarding water, meat and bodily limbs — stripping away love’s mystique to reveal its animalistic effects. 

Lanthimos’ lean on artistry makes his messaging difficult to follow, a fault of the movie being three films sandwiched together. As individual works, each harbors its own abnormal characteristics in plot and pacing. 

Despite the subject matter, the film isn’t wholly melancholic. Deadpan dialogue and personal oddities bring frequent bouts of humor, making it difficult to label “Kinds of Kindness” a specific genre. It’s a romance, tragedy, comedy and horror all at once.

Lanthimos’ previous film “Poor Things” was grandiose in every way, but “Kinds of Kindness” is purposefully stripped back. The camera often focuses more on objects and gestures than faces. Additionally, the small cast and suburban settings make surreal sequences feel even more unnerving.

The end result is a film that feels both like arthouse cinema and a student capstone.

Being made of three films with vague themes and simple production, “Kinds of Kindness” can’t help but feel bloated. At over 2-and-a-half hours long, the feature suffers from long-windedness to revisit similar ideas, with similar faces in bizarrely different situations.

“Kinds of Kindness” is as equally likely to discomfort as it is to peak interest. For Lanthimos’ most senior project, it purposefully aims to be amateur.

“Kinds of Kindness,” rated R, is in theaters now.

Featured image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr is a fourth-year majoring in Film and Digital Media and minoring in Political Science. Since joining The Phoenix during his first-year Brendan's been a consistent presence. Covering film, television, comic books and music, his pension for review writing motivated his column, 'Up to Parr.' Brendan joined staff as Arts Editor in fall 2024.