Kinds of Kindness


All the reviews mention cannibalism. So every time anyone eats anything, and there are quite a lot of scenes in which someone eats something, I can't help thinking "oh, god, this is going to turn out to be roast leg of insurance salesman". That may in fact have coloured my response to the movie. I don't specially like horror movies. I have no objection to people getting their bits out provided it's done in the best possible taste. But I don't react well to yucky stuff. I think I looked away in that film about the Irishman and the donkey on the island. 

Kinds of Kindness is a strange film. I am not certain that strangeness is in itself a virtue. It's rather a nasty film. I am not sure that there is much point in nastiness just for the sake of it. It's quite a dirty film. I don't have much objection to films in which people pretend to do it with other people. I enjoyed Poor Things quite a lot. But neither do I find that stuff all that interesting. It's clearly a very well made film, but I am not sure if being well made makes up for being strange, nasty, dirty and pointless. So a lot seems to rest on whether or not it is interestingly pointless, dirty, nasty and strange. And I have to concede that it is, in some places, quite interesting.

I've done the joke about Blackadder and the Jumping Jews Of Jerusalem before, haven't I? "Quite good. But I don't really think they understood it."

It's three stories, or, if you absolutely insist, a triptych. In the first one, a servile office worker, Robert, (Jesse Plemons) is instructed by his boss, Raymond, (William Dafoe) to kill a particular person, RMF (Yorgos Stefanakos) in a road accident, but bottles out. The boss makes him do other unreasonable things as well, like over eat and read Anna Karenina. Robert formulates a very complicated plan to inveigle himself back into his bosses good books, involving another of Raymond's employees (Emma Stone). His plot involves deliberately breaking his own ankle. 

In the second story, Jess Plemons is a rather gormless police officer, Daniel, whose wife Liz, (Emma Stone), a marine biologist, is assumed lost at sea. It turns out that, against all odds, she has survived, but Daniel becomes convinced that the woman who has returned is a doppelg√§nger. Her shoes don't fit her feet, she has taken up smoking, and she likes chocolate, which she never did before. So he asks her to chop her own finger off and serve it to him with cauliflower. As you would. Which she does. 

In the third section, Jesse Plemons and Emma Stone are Andrew and Emily, devotees of a cult which is searching for a woman who they believe has the power to raise the dead. Stone is drugged by her ex-husband, has sex with him against her will, and is expelled from the cult. She continues to search for the messiah by herself and apparently finds her.

The film has a washed out, beat quality to it: everyone in it seems to be in a permanent somnambulant state. I think that is semi-compulsory in European art-house pictures. There are elements of the supernatural: the cult woman seems really to be able to heal wounds and resurrect corpses and the police officer's real wife seems to literally return after he has made the fake one do something utterly unspeakable. It is possible we're in the realms of magical realism, where metaphors are given concrete reality. Daniel feels that Liz is no longer Liz, but feels that she has come back to him after she indicates that she would have been willing to cut off her own body parts. There is a lot of talk about dreams, but I don't think we are supposed to think that the whole movie is a dream sequence, although it is unquestionably dream like. (Beau is Afraid became much less intolerable once you realised it was all going on in the eponymous character's head.) There are clearly thematic connections between the three stories -- twins, food, submissive sex, drugs. Robert is utterly subservient to his boss Raymond, Liz is utterly subservient to her husband Daniel, and Andrew and Emily are are utterly subservient to their cult. William Dafoe is the dominant figure -- the manipulative boss and the cult leader -- in parts one and three, but in the middle section he's just Liz's benign father. As in the Decalogue and Three Colours, there are small narrative connections between the unrelated stories. The Yorgos Stefanakos character recurs in all three of them, despite being dead. The three sections are named after him ("The Death of RMF"; "RMF is Flying"; "RMF Eats a Sandwich") but if that is a clue to the meaning I didn't get it. The ending of the third story, and the post-credit sequence, almost gave me the feeling that what I'd been watching was a shaggy dog story. Dogs feature heavily in one of the dream sequences.

I found myself trying to solve the movie, rather than engaging with it. Interestingly weird stuff keeps happening -- the cult collecting each others tears and tasting each others sweat; the two normal suburban couples watching videos of themselves engaged in group sex; a dream about being rescued from drowning by a synchronised swimming team. But my reaction was always "What is the point of this? Where is this going? What am I failing to understand? When are you going to cone to the point?" The absurdism distanced me from what was already stylistically a very distanced movie. 

I didn't have a bad time in the cinema, although I could have done without the body horror. Do I recommend it? Mainly in the hope that someone will be able to spot the point that I evidently completely missed.

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