Film Review: Kinds of Kindness; Yorgos Lanthimos purposefully alienates viewers with surreal triptych fable

As Yorgos Lanthimos built up his profile with more mainstream-inclined audiences over the years – blending his unique storytelling vision with noticeable, A-list talent – the filmmaker viscerally tells them to essentially f*ck off with Kinds of Kindness, a 164-minute blackly comic, absurdist, and boundary-pushing surrealist drama that makes his previous oddity, last year’s award-winning Poor Things, practically child’s play in comparison.

Intentional animal cruelty, self-mutilation, spousal rape, and the comedic side of sex tapes are just some of the patience-testing additives Lanthimos and co-writer Efthimis Filippou (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) pepper throughout the bizarre experience that is this film, one that is broken into three individual stories that share a loose thread; a triptych fable, if you will.

Despite the film opening with the pumping bassline of “Sweet Dreams” by The Eurythmics, Kinds of Kindness operates on the contrary, with the trio of tales – The Death of R.M.F., R.M.F. is Flying, and R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich – proving a nightmarish experience for both the characters and, potentially, the audience; there were dozens of walk-outs at the recent Sydney Film Festival screenings, indicating that their tolerance level was indeed at its fill.

Jesse Plemons (here delivering the film’s best work), Willem Dafoe, Emma Stone, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie and Joe Alwyn are featured across all three stories as a variety of characters, with Plemons, Dafoe and Stone oft navigating the most important aspects.  The first narrative centres itself around Robert (Plemons) and his desire to unchain himself from the life-deciding control of his employer (Dafoe); the second details a husband (Plemons) and his intent to uncover the true identity of his wife (Stone), who has returned after being reported missing, suspicious that she is actually an imposter; and the third revolves around a cultist’s quest to find a woman they believe has the power to re-animate the dead.

That’s their descriptions at the most basic form though, and Lanthimos is a director that rejects such surface-level simplicities, with Kinds of Kindness indulging in the fact that it refuses to resolve many of its own narrative strands.  It poses many questions, and answers them sporadically, but there’s a substance missing that will undoubtedly irk viewers who need such absolution.

Despite its title, Kinds of Kindness is a dark, overwhelming experience that shouldn’t be entered into lightly.  The negative word that the film is sure to earn is something I completely understand, as there’s such a deliberate pace and bizarreness to it all that many will accuse Lanthimos of over-indulging in his own auteur-like temperament.

Personally, it proved a fascinating experience, and the director’s boldness in purposefully alienating such a large subsect of viewers with these tales of surreality is something we should ultimately be grateful for in a time when the original idea seems to be slowly fading out of theatrical prominence.


Kinds of Kindness is now screening in Australian theatres.

Kinds of Kindness was originally reviewed as part of our coverage of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.