Kinds of Kindness     Yorgos Lanthimos;

Kinds of Kindness     Yorgos Lanthimos;

Kinds of Kindness     Yorgos Lanthimos; screenplay – Efthimis Filipou (2024; USA) Emma Stone, Jesse Plemens, Willem Dafoe

viewed Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, 2nd July 24; ticket £12.25

little ideas on the widescreen

Lanthimos’ ‘Kinds of Kindness’ (KoK) comprises three short films. All the stories have similar and familiar all-American settings, they are all filled out with the same players, but each revolves about a different situation. The three separate scenarios sort of pick up on the ideas realm suggested by the lyrics of Eurythmics number ‘Sweet Dreams’ referencing abuse and manipulation. This rollocking pre-title track is laid over the opening image of a typical aspirational American suburban house/home, complete with its mock classical white portico.

According to Wikipedia, Lanthimos’s original title for the film was ‘RMF’. Which title Lanthimos has said is meaningless in itself and not in reference to anything. Anything, that is, other than empty meaninglessness of such referent signs where multifarious initials (initialism) and acronyms have insinuated themselves into our consciousness as a daily part of our language, effecting even the way we think, or perhaps even the way we are able to think. These semantic ‘shortcuts’ often replace full nomenclature, allowing in a sense a sort of bypassing of the actual or, a dislocation between what is said and what is represented. Any way these shortcuts are very much part of the way we communicate, and each of Lanthimos’ shorts is preceded by the use of the initials RMF as part of the title, each of which titles incorporates the absurd ethos.

So far so good; obscure but witty titles wrapped around a perception. The same cannot be said of the rest of the movie which fails to lead us further into any of the places that Lanthimos and Filipou haven’t already explored, and doesn’t even approach the calibre of ideation expressed in either ‘Lobster’ or ‘Killing of the Sacred Deer’. To the extent that by the time (a rather long time given the length of the movie) Lanthimos presents the last story the impression is of a dull mono–paced experience.

A short intercalcatory note: Lanthimos and Filipou as Greeks have a certain fascination with America in relation to the Founding Fathers huge admiration for classical Greek political and philosophical thought which they incorporated into their constitution. They wrought a constitution based on rationality and democracy and prided themselves, contumaciously, on founding a nation where these attributes would become governing virtues. Of course, the Greeks saw no essential conflict between slavery and these central features of their political culture which of course suited the writers of the American Constitution who were in a similar position and like the Greeks could well rationalise the contradiction. The Greek love affair was further affirmed in American architecture. But what seems to interest Lanthimos and Filipou is the selective nature of the American espousal of Hellenic culture. The Greeks were committed to reason as a principle but the obverse side of their culture was the myth and extent to which mythology and the power of Myth was also embedded in the Greek culture and psyche, a state attested to by Greek dramatists such as Aeschylus and Euripides. In myth there is no reason; simply surrender to fate. The Americans were never able to come to terms with myth as the Greek twin shadow of reason. But it is a necessary shadow.

‘The Lobster’ at least its first half, revolved about the strange representation of distinctly separate areas of the social matrix being compressed into one expressive module. The key idea is that formulaic conformist coupledom (that underlies the moral strictures of suburban USA) is made subject to a regulatory corporate ethos, which in itself is characterised by a absurdist consequential framework reminiscent of Lewis Carroll. Failure to graduate with a partner is ‘punished’ by being transformed into a creature of one’s choice. Hence the title. The second half of ‘The Lobster’ moves into a different narrative prescription, but the first half set within the walls of the shadowy corporate organisation charged with implementing this tortuous partnering regime, is a superb parody and play out of core satirical ideas, wonderfully marshalled by the deadpan acting style.

‘The Killing of the Sacred Deer’ comprises a skilfully contrived scenario in which the main character, heart surgeon Steven Murphy, finds himself being subsumed into myth. In the heart land of the American Dream, the land of the brave and the free, the symbolic home of individuality, the protagonist finds himself drawn down the same ineluctable path that saw Agamemnon kill Iphigenia at Aulis as punishment for killing a deer sacred to Artemis. We in the West have the illusion we are free; but our destiny is to be folded into mythology and variously and in different ways live out the old archetypal responses to life. Myth is not just a story. It is a psychic reality; Lanthimos and Filipou transpose this perception to the sweetly manicured lawns of mid-America.

The short stories that comprise KoK have nothing of the depths of insight of these two earlier movies from the same team. They are light weight re-visitings of similar thematics that all have a derivative element of content. The first story is a parody of Corporate Power – it reprises the core proposition of ‘Lobster’ namely the intertwining of the personal and the corporate in a skein of warped power relations. There are the now familiar absurdist trappings bolted into the scenario but the whole plays out as one dimensional thesis with the acting, locked into functional representation of an idea spectrum, eventually loses conviction, a tendency that pervades all of the three stories.

The second of the three stories like ‘Sacred Deer’ has a mythic resonance.  But in contrast to ‘Sacred Deer’ it is a garbled ramble through its material which is set in the broken life of a cop as he experiences complete mental disintegration. Through its tangled imagery it presents as a potpourri of different fairy tale like themes such as the idea of the double (the form shifting witch) and the allure of human flesh; divine hunger as a compulsive act of either restoration or revenge. It calls to mind old tales such as The Juniper Tree or Hansel and Gretel.

The third story titled ‘RMF Eats a Sandwich’ comes across as merely confused. The action follows the obscure meanderings of two members of a religious cult intent on finding a particular woman who has (unbeknownst to herself) the power to resurrect the dead. The effect intended is parody, which works up to a point, the point being that cults are already parodies of belief systems, and the oppositional humour starts to lose its edge. Otherwise the story struggles to find the conceptual unity that usually underpins the short form and the scenario flails about desperately seeking ‘Susan’, so to speak. At thispoint, the film and in particular the acting, with its use of the same cast who are all locked into representation mode, starts to pale and Lanthimos’ short film tryst looks more a more like a series of little ideas fleshed out beyond their own value.

KoK is to an extent carried by Lanthimos’ understanding of way in which the vistas setting and architecture that characterise suburban America, psychologically mould their populations. Lanthimos’ camera films the main settings, the office suites, the medical and suburban zones as dis-connected from the human characteristics that should define them. The interiors record the flat nature of the interfaces and surfaces: the long corridors the vast interiors have the effect of deflating the personal and inflating the impersonal. The opening shot over which the Eurythmics track is played sees a suburban exterior a house of the American dream, vast with a white columned portico. This is a house of myth, not the house individual achievement.

 Lanthimos fails to match his acute optical perception of American with a script of equal insight.

adrin neatrour






Author: Star & Shadow

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