Studio A24 has grown into one of the most unique production companies in the modern cinema age. Her films have spanned a wide variety of genres, and all maintain a sense of individuality and an engagement with the story. What started as an independent studio has expanded to include high-profile performers. The 2017 release titled Killing a Sacred Deer Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and stars Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan. This is Farrell and Lanthimos’ second collaboration following the riveting drama the lobster
Killing a Sacred Deer could certainly be described as an odd, confusing cinematic experience. However, it’s a multi-layered thriller with lots of build-up and unexpected twists. Farrell portrays Steven, a cardiac surgeon who forms a bond with Martin (Keoghan), a 16-year-old grieving the loss of his father on the operating table. Though unsettling from the start, this connection takes a darker turn as Martin’s intentions are revealed. The film’s first act establishes a Kubrick-style filmmaking that immediately makes the viewer nervous. With long, elegant sequences of shots, wide angles and a sophisticated overture, Lanthimos offers a magnificent presentation for this mysterious drama. However, what really sets an unusual tone is the dialogue, which is anything but conventional.
The dialogue in Killing a Sacred Deer
There is a lot to be said about the lines in the film. Each character is almost robotic and monotonous, and all speak in fairly similar ways. It creates a kind of distance between them and the audience, who are aware that Steven is the protagonist. But the fact that his speech and mannerisms are similar to Martin, who could be identified as an antagonist, creates an equal relationship with viewers. Anyone could be the protagonist, but are also antithetical to each other. With a shared distance to the audience, it’s hard to tell who’s morally right.
The power of destiny in Killing a Sacred Deer
There is an overall supernatural element that plagues the characters, along with a chilling psychological horror for the audience. The course of the film changes drastically when Martin reveals his true intentions of avenging his father, who died at Steven’s hands. It comes as a shock when this boy begins to have a psychological and physical impact on Steven and his family (and Keoghan, now The Joker in). Batman movies, is amazing here). However, according to Colin Farrell in an interview with Film4, there is a strong presence in chess:
What I get out of this is the feeling that the gods are at play. Just from reading [the script] I felt like there was some sort of omnipresent gods, like the gods of the past on Mount Olympus, who look down on the weaknesses of mortal humans, the stupidity of mortal humans, and use us to process their own tragedies and their own Trauma and own boredom.
It all sounds like a Greek tragedy. Sure enough, there’s a reference to Iphigenia in Aulis, a Greek play by Euripides in which the character Iphigenia is sacrificed to the gods by her father Agamemnon. Iphigenia willingly surrenders to death. After killing a sacred stag, Agamemnon angered the goddess Artemis, who demanded justice for crimes against nature. Iphigenie’s innocence is reflected in the children of Killing a Sacred Deer. Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy) are on the brink of death when their legs become paralyzed; They lose their appetites and their bodies weaken. This comes after Martin’s prophecy to Steven when he swore he would see justice done for his father. As Martin tells him in the film:
That critical moment that we both knew would come one day, that time is now. Just as you killed a member of my family, now you must kill a member of your family to even things out, got it? Of course I can’t tell you who to kill, you have to decide that. But if you don’t, they all get sick and die. Bob will die. Kim will die. Your wife will die. First: paralysis of the limbs. Second: refusal of food to the point of starvation. Third: bleeding from the eyes. Four: death. Don’t worry, you won’t get sick. You just have to stay calm, that’s all.
Hubris and Retaliation in Killing a Sacred Deer
As in most Greek tragedies, the protagonist suffers from a fatal flaw. Oedipus the great king, Odysseus and other powerful figures demonstrate hubris that angers the gods. In this film, we see Steven as a character resembling that of a proud man who doesn’t know his own fatal flaw. Martin’s father died at Steven’s hand, which many characters in the film said was perfect and clean. However, Steven reveals to his wife Ana (Nicole Kidman) that he was drinking before the deadly surgery on Martin’s father. This comes after Steven failed to acknowledge any involvement in the matter, saying:
A surgeon never kills a patient. An anesthetist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never.
While sorrow may be buried deep beneath pride in one’s duplicity, fate demands vengeance in its worst ways. The balance of justice will be settled when Steven must decide which of his two children to kill. The children then compete with each other over whose life is more valuable. This is where the film takes its darkest turn, and that turn is meant to be literal. Steven blindfolds himself and ties his wife and children to the barrel of a shotgun. Ironically, the one facing the accidental shot is his son Bob. The youngest, the most innocent and the one whose fall started it all.
Killing a Sacred Deer is a complex film with a multitude of interpretations. The stag also represents gentleness and devotion in the spiritual world. But the word justice is used frequently and takes on a neutral connotation when given to both the protagonist and the antagonist. Both seek justice for transgressions against themselves and their families. However, the film asks audiences to question whether one deserves justice towards another, or does there always have to be a balance?