Movie Review : The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Right off the bat, The Killing of a Sacred Deer proudly announces that it's going to be a different experience. The movie opens with one, maybe two minutes of surgical footage of a live, beating heart getting operated on. It's ugly, white-ish in color and it fucking dares you to watch. That opening scene reminded me of the three minutes of obese women swaying in slow motion at the beginning of Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, a movie I loved. And I ended up loving The Killing of a Sacred Deer, too. It's a fucked up movie, but it is one hell of a fucked up movie.
If your opening scene is crass and borderline unwatchable, it's a good omen.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the story of Steven (the low-key magnificent Colin Farrell), a successful cardiologist who befriends a young man named Martin (Barry Keoghan) after his father dies in surgery. After he invited Martin over to his house, Steven's youngest Bob (Sunny Suljic) mysteriously loses the use of his legs. Steven soon learns from Martin that his family's been hexed. His children and wife will loose gradually lose control of their limbs, will stop eating, start bleeding from the eyes and then finally die. In that order. Unless Steven is willing to sacrifice one family member to save the others.
If you want to make sense out of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, you have to first understand that it's a retelling of the myth of Iphigenia. The daughter Agamemnon had to sacrifice to Artemis in exchange for favorable wins, after angering the goddess by killing, well... a sacred deer. But it's more complicated than that. Those familiar with director Yorgos Lanthimios' strange and exciting artistic legacy know that he would've been restless with a straightforward contemporary retelling, so he basically scrambled the symbolic order or things and that's where The Killing of a Sacred Deer really shines.
Bear with me because it's going to get strange and academical for a moment. Colin Farrell's character is the God in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. He is a heart surgeon, a man with unquestionable life or death powers over his peers. Martin is a victim of the fate who rebels against the God who unfairly took away the life of his father who didn't smoke and lived a fairly active lifestyle. So, I believe that The Killing of a Sacred Deer is not only a retelling of the myth of Iphigenia, but also the story of how men killed God and made him human again by forcing him to sacrifice someone He loved. Call it a post-Niezschean Iphigenia, I guess? That's the kind of shit that makes my head explode, but in a good way.
The mind-blowing thematic appeal of The Killing of a Sacred Deer is only one of the numerous reasons why it's great. There actors' mysterious, telegraphic line delivery, like they were unconsciously doing a stage play instead of a film, makes the viewing absolutely hypnotic. It's like they were self-consciously positioning themselves in-between two layers of meaning and leaving the move entirely opened to interpretation with their play. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is highly uncomfortable, like only a Yorgos Lanthimios movie can be, but it's powerful and rewarding if you're willing to look beyond its off-putting presentation. There should be more movie that brave and bold.