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Kinds of Kindness

Kinds of Kindness Is An Anthology As Deranged As It Is Honest

Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos channels Boschian bizarreness to paint an observant triptych on human desire.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

by Prabhjot Bains

Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s 16th-century triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, is a beguiling meditation on human sin — a radically surreal panorama of a paradise lost to carnal and ephemeral pleasures. Its three highly detailed panels—first depicting a biblical paradise, a hedonistic garden, and then an ultimate descent into hell — all tell a different story. Hours can be spent deciphering each of them before the work is tackled in its entirety. But its true power lies in how all three visions work in tandem to reflect our deepest human urges back at us in wonderfully bizarre and honest ways.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinds of Kindness unfolds as a cinematic analogue to Bosch’s absurd canvas, as a trilogy of fables that dissect our innate, desperate need for love, belonging, and acceptance, and how far we are willing to go to hold onto them. It’s the rare anthology where each part empowers what came before it, folding onto itself through powerful themes and metaphors (quite like Bosch’s oak-panelled triptych) to build a complete treatise on how our darkest urges are often linked to our purest thoughts—where submission, control, and power are forms of “kindness” in themselves.

Lanthimos is no stranger to blending the worlds of comedy and drama to craft something piercingly cerebral. While not as vibrant or as dreamlike as his Oscar-winning Poor Things, Kinds of Kindness is just as hard-hitting in its absurd realism. This tri-pronged anthology goes to grotesque lengths to communicate simple ideas, transforming them into something not only profound but oddly human. Lanthimos’ vision is built upon Boschian oddities at each turn, employing the most guttural and off-kilter concepts to probe the disquieting nature of human desire. In Kinds of Kindness, his style is distilled into its purest form, with each strange fable doubling as a singular, startling observation of the human condition.

The film’s three segments unfold as individual episodes, with the cast playing different characters at a time and separate credits that roll at each story’s end. Along with a thematic through-line, each chapter is named after the same, speechless character: R.M.F (Yorgos Stefanakos)—one of many peculiarities that dot the film’s beefy 164-minute runtime.

The first chapter, “The Death of R.M.F.,” centres on Robert (Jesse Plemons), a man who lives according to the terms and conditions set by his boss, Raymond (Willem Dafoe). Everything is decided for him, from his dietary regimen to the tenets of his marital life. When he refuses to kill a stranger, his life is thrown into disarray, as he mightily struggles to rekindle the lost dynamic between him and Raymond. Plemons turns in a career-best performance, bringing humour and colour into a tortured existence. It’s a chapter that’s as funny as it is excruciating in its observations on our need to both control and be controlled in our relationships.

The following story, “R.M.F Is Flying” unfolds as an arthouse version of the Twilight Zone, full of cold, detached wides that render the audience an omnipotent observer. We’re left to pick over the most agonizing, tragic, and weirdly hilarious details of these characters’ beliefs and relationships. The chapter centres on Policeman Daniel (Plemons) whose wife, Liz (Emma Stone), disappears at sea during a scientific expedition. However, when she returns home, a paranoid Robert is convinced she’s an imposter. In taking a light sci-fi approach, Lanthimos and screenwriter Efthimis Filippou probe the nature of change and power in relationships. With its gnawing bouts of body horror suggesting we may have to kill parts of our old selves to save a relationship.

Like Bosch’s third panel in the painting, “R.M.F Eats a Sandwich” is also the film’s darkest and most challenging segment. It centres on Emily (Stone) and Andrew (Plemons), two modern-day cultists searching for a fabled necromancer to appease their leader, Omi (Dafoe). It brazenly leans into its debauched weirdness to interrogate our frantic need to belong.

Anthologies are often defined by their weakest stories, but in echoing Bosch, Lanthimos crafts a triptych that is empowered by the sum of its parts, using three bold, bizarre fables to comment on the dark, fickle nature of human desire. With Kinds of Kindness, Lanthimos cements himself as one of cinema’s greatest and most revealing absurdists.