Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Cinematographer: Thimios Bakatakis
Producer: Ed Guiney and Yorgos Lanthimos
by Jon Cvack
The Greek myth Iphigenia in Aulis takes place while the United Greek armies are attacking Troy in order to get Helen back. Agamemnon is en route to attack with his crew, but with no wind at their back, they’re stuck in the middle of the ocean. The Gods tell Agamemnon that he could resolve the problem if he sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia. Agamemnon instructs his wife Clytemnestra to send their daughter to the battle front. She soon arrives with both her brother and her fiance Achilles. Soon the wife and Achilles discover the plot, attempt to avoid Iphigenia’s capture until Agamemnon’s army take them under capture to avoid skirting the plan. Nevertheless, Iphigenia agrees to the act, figuring the sacrifice a great honor to save the world. Agamemnon carries out the act, killing his daughter. In another story, Agamemnon kills a sacred deer.
I’m not exactly sure how this translate to Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing of a Sacred Deer, other than including a powerful and successful man who ends up killing one of his children to save the rest of his family. In the film, Agamemnon’s character is Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) who’s a heart surgeon. Recently, during an operation gone wrong when Murphy was drunk, he killed the father of a teenage boy Martin (Barry Keoghan; who might be one of the most exciting young actors I’ve seen in awhile). Murphy then befriends Martin lavishing him with gifts, such as an expensive watch and visiting the boy’s widow mother ( Alicia Silverstone; in the first thing I think I’ve seen from her since Clueless (1995)) who hopes to seduce the doctor.
Back at home, Murphy lives a seemingly perfect life. Married to the gorgeous and smart Anna ( Nicole Kidman) along with their two children Kim ( Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). Murphy invites Martin over for dinner where Kim takes a strong liking to Martin and the two begin dating. Soon Murphy’s son says he can’t use his legs, paralyzed from the waist down. Murphy takes him to the hospital, where after a series of tests, they fail to discover or cure the problem. Martin fesses up to being responsible, saying that on account of Murphy killing his father, Murphy's entire family will experience the same disease. Soon Murphy’s daughter succumbs to the symptoms and Bob’s evolves, curbing his appetite and slowly he begins starving to death.
Murphy soon kidnaps Martin, taking him back to their house and tying him up to the chair in his basement, torturing him into releasing the curse. Martin refuses and so Murphy keeps him there. Things with Anna and Murphy begin to disintegrate, as Anna exchanges sexual favors with Murphy’s colleague in order to learn whether Murphy was drunk while operating on Martin’s father. She soon decides that it’s best they slaughter one of the children, as they could always have another one. In the end, Murphy ties all three members of his family, grabs a shotgun, and spins around in a human roulette game, firing when he stops and killing his son.
It’s easy to see the loose parallels behind the classic story and this one; though I don’t know exactly how the two compare. I’ve yet to see any of director Yorgus Lanthimos’ other work (I saw and wrote this before seeing The Favorite (2018)), though I have a feeling that he’s the type of filmmaker where you know you’re watching his work. Each character in The Killing of a Sacred Deer delivers their lines completely deadpan, failing to show a single bit of emotion or performance and creating a deeply unnerving vibe throughout the story. Barry Keoghan plays a fantastic villain, feeling as though he’s the only native to Lantimo’s grim and dry world; as though Murphy and his family are in purgatory, rather than real life.
How this all translates is where the challenge lies. While wealthy and successful, Murphy and Anna don’t seem to have any specific joy in life. Even while making love, Anna lies motionless on a bed, pretending to be on anaesthetic as Murphy has sex with her. In such a world, Murphy’s alienation causes him to drink; risking his perfect upper class existence and family in order to cope with a complete lack of meaning. In the end, he’s willing to kill his family because it’s the easiest solution, and the only thing which could return the sense of normalcy to his life, however unfulfilling that normalcy is. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a cynical and disturbing film, evolving into the fading trend of home invasion films that extend across the late 00s and early 10s with stories like The Strangers (2008), The Purge (2013), and most similarly, Funny Games (2007) ; though in regards to the latter, some way, some how this feels far darker and hopeless.
BELOW: I've seen one movie from the Yorgos at the time of this writing, but I bet I'd know any of his other films by performance alone
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