Yorgos Lanthimos is back with his latest effort, Kinds of Kindness, and while it’s vastly different than any of his movies to date, it only proves that he’s our weirdest working director. That’s a great thing. Kinds of Kindness is a triptych, with three different storylines weaving together in surprising ways. Predictably, the synopsis is just as intriguing but vague as one might expect of a Yorgos Lanthimos movie:

A man seeks to break free from his predetermined path, a cop questions his wife’s demeanor after her return from a supposed drowning, and a woman searches for an extraordinary individual prophesied to become a renowned spiritual guide.

Jesse Plemons, Emma Stone, and Willem Dafoe excel in three different stories, all anchored by Jesse Plemons’ character, a man who, thematically, at least, is continually resurrected. In the first, he’s a man slavishly devoted to his boss (Dafoe), doing his bidding until one task makes him question where his moral line is drawn. In the second, he plays a man convinced that his wife (Stone) is not the same person when she returns from being lost at sea. In the third, he and Stone play cult members obsessed with finding a fabled person with the power to bring people back from the dead.

So, yeah. Vintage vague, odd stuff from Lanthimos.

In all three stories, the theme is obsession and blind adherence to something, whether it’s a person, a belief, or an idea. It’s not a movie that particularly cares whether or not you like the characters, which is what makes it so compelling. But then, Lanthimos’ movies have never really cared about being likable in the way so many movies today, especially those with broad audience appeal, way. With any other director, it might make for unwatchable, deeply unpleasant movies, but with Lanthimos, it works. He’s weird, his characters are weird, and that’s their charm. They’re generally not concerned with how they are viewed by other characters or the morality of their actions, which frees them up to go places and to tell stories most directors would steer clear of.

Directors who are too worried about his this or that might be perceived limit themselves. Of course, there’s a case always to be made for not punching down, but preemptively fearing the audience or critics’ reactions has been the ruin of many filmmakers. Lanthimos doesn’t have that desire to self-censor or to hold himself back while keeping to the usual narrative paths and troubled-but-understandable characters.

Lanthimos’ more recent works have been kinder and warmer, for him. Those looking for the dark, sometimes nasty sentiment of Killing of a Sacred Deer or Dogtooth may be disappointed by his more recent efforts of Poor Things or The Favourite. Still, even those movies have been digressive and transgressive from the usual theatrical fare and certainly from most FYC Oscar movies. Emma Stone would not have won the Best Actress Oscar this year had her character of Bella Baxter in Poor Things not given her so much to work with: a baby’s mind placed into a grown woman’s body is a Frankensteinian story that allows for experimentation and rawness and small little acts of strangeness that make a character memorable.

Kinds of Kindness, where his actors play multiple different roles, is another such movie that allows for the full range of human expression and an actor’s creativity. Hopefully, Lanthimos never stops being weird, even at his most normal, and never stops being dark, even at his lightest. It’s his daring that helps his actors shine and creates richer, more rewarding movies that hold up years after they are first released.

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  • Editorial