When I sit down to review a movie, there’s one thing I don’t have to worry about: figuring out whether I enjoyed it or not. That’s the easiest part of this job. When I walk out of a theater I tend to know, like most people, how I generally feel about what I just saw. Expressing why I feel that way specifically is where the actual work begins. But not today. Today is the exception, because I have no idea if I like Kinds of Kindness or if I actually hate it. This anthology-style film is a captivating mess filled with world-class performances in absolutely bizarre plots. It also intentionally, frustratingly keeps viewers on the outside rather than letting them fully enter this strange world of unusual people and supernatural phenomena. Kinds of Kindness is a movie that dares you to like it while not caring if you don’t.

And that seems to be exactly how director Yorgos Lanthimos’ wanted me to feel when I left my theater. His film is not interested in generating typical reactions, either emotional or academic. It’s only interested in doing what it wants to do at its own pace and in its own way.

It’s almost impossible to describe the three different plots of Kinds of Kindness without getting into major, movie-ruining spoilers. To even hint at what it is, we need Searchlight Pictures’ official synopsis. It’s technically correct in the same way you would be technically correct if you described Neil Armstrong’s Moon landing by saying, “A guy went out for a walk.” Yes, but no.

Kinds of Kindness is a triptych fable, following a man without choice who tries to take control of his own life; a policeman who is alarmed that his wife who was missing-at-sea has returned and seems a different person; and a woman determined to find a specific someone with a special ability, who is destined to become a prodigious spiritual leader

Those all sound like normal stories, but nothing about Kinds of Kindness qualifies as normal. This is an overtly weird film. At times, especially in the first segment, it feels like being weird is the only thing it wants to be. All three connected mini-movies are full of unusual people, possibly supernatural beings, bizarre relationships, sex cults, and uncomfortable power dynamics.

Kinds of Kindness trailer from Yorgo Lanthimos stars Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Jesse Plemons
Searchlight Pictures

The three short films (which are all close to being feature length) have a through line. The meaning of that through line is so ambiguous the internet is going to provide 500 different “explainers” that all claim a different meaning. Some viewers will find that kind of ambiguity fascinating and worthy of deep exploration. Others will find it frustrating and so widely open-ended that it seems to be pointless. Only those who claim to know definitively what Lanthimos meant will be wrong. Kinds of Kindness doesn’t provide many answers (sometimes it provides zero), because the answer is not the point. This movie is less a movie and more an experience defined by ideas.

Even its ideas are up for debate. When the movie ended, I asked someone at my screening what they thought the major themes were. I didn’t totally disagree with anything they said, yet they hadn’t even considered my biggest takeaway which I think is clearly the biggest theme. Some people will love that kind of freedom to find their own meaning, the way some people love a painting that is open to countless interpretations. Others will find it pretentious and off-putting. I, somehow, feel both ways, which is a big reason why I have no idea if I like this movie or not. It’s interesting, yet infuriating. Mesmerizing, yet tedious. Alluring, yet inaccessible.

(Note: I’ve opted not to share what I believe the film’s major theme is because even putting that idea in your head will completely change your experience watching this movie. Kinds of Kindness is the rare case where telling you an “idea” is a much bigger spoiler than telling you a major plot point. That alone tells you a lot about the nature of this film and whether you might like it.)

Searchlight Pictures

For as strange as Kinds of Kindness is, it’s still a movie with basic elements that are easily assessed. Lanthimos (The Favourite, Poor Things) is a brilliant director who knows how to establish a sense of place and time. Here he creates a unique vibe that perfectly matches the off-kilter nature of his story/stories. Everything is working together in harmony, even when he’s constantly using discordant piano notes as his score.

Also not a surprise is how incredible the cast is. Having Jesse Plemons and Emma Stone as your leads and letting them play multiple characters is even better in practice than it sounds in theory. They both create three distinct, dynamic characters (sometimes as a lead, sometimes as a supporting character). This film is a testament to their immense talents and without their performances, I wouldn’t be struggling with my feelings for this movie. The same is true of the rest of the cast: Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, and Mamoudou Athie. They’re all great pulling triple duty. (Or in one case, quadruple duty.)

For as much as I loved the cast and aesthetics of Kinds of Kindness, the pacing often felt like torture. It has a lengthy two hours and 45 runtime that feels more like 17 hours. Thankfully the three stories get more engaging as they go on, so that helped… a little. The first installment is more of an interesting idea than an actual story and it really drags. (It’s also the least accessible/most mysterious.) The second feels like a short film with a familiar plot that goes on too long, but could easily have been its own feature with more focus. The third section is the closest to a typical narrative, and no surprise it’s easily the most emotionally fulfilling. That’s a much needed dynamic and anchor desperately missing from the rest of the film.

What doesn’t come too late is the comedy. Kinds of Kindness‘ closest genre is probably black comedy, and it realy works when it is. The first segment is only funny in a few spots, but the second is laugh out loud funny. Same with the third, which is hilarious even though it’s the most personal and human.

Searchlight Pictures

In the end, it feels like everything works together exactly as Yorgos Lanthimos wanted it to, including my unusual reaction it generated. I’m sure he hopes everyone loves this film, but he also doesn’t care if we hate it. Kinds of Kindness isn’t concerned with anything so basic. It’s operating on its own bizarre frequency and how you hear it, and what you make of it when you do, is entirely up for you. The result is a movie that is equally fascinating and frustrating.

Did I ultimately like it or hate it? Today I’m going to give it a positive star rating in large part because I can’t watch Plemons and Stone be this good in a movie and give it a negative one, yet my score doesn’t actually answer that question. Like Kinds of Kindness, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

If you do figure that out please tell me. Knowing how I feel about a movie is usually the easiest part of this job.

Kinds of Kindness

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on   Twitter and   Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.