THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Rafey Cassidy, Bill Camp
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/11/17
Opens: October 20, 2017
Greek mythology’s overriding theme is “Don’t mess with the gods,” an idea give some later resonance by Samuel Taylor Coleridge when the Ancient Mariner shoots an albatross. Therein lies the title of this extraordinary film. When Greek king Agamemmnon, kills a sacred deer, he is punished by Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Agamemmnon can release himself from punishment only by killing his daughter Iphigenia. The ancient myths all take place in the modern world as well. You need only find the right current metaphor and the Greeks will fill you in. Yorgos Lanthimos’s film provides such an example.
This concept of punishment for a flaw becomes the theme of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” though the only four-legged animal in this film is a large, obedient dog. You could not get a better director for this kind of theatrical piece than Athens-born Yorgos Lanthimos, who in his recent movie “The Lobster” imagines a dystopian future in which single men are put into a hotel, each given 45 days to find a romantic partner or be changed into a brutish beast and sent into the woods.
In the central role of “Sacred Deer,” Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), a cardiovascular surgeon married to Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman), an ophthalmologist, shares his life as well with his two youngsters, 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and twelve-year old Bob (Sunny Suljic). Materialistically they have it made, living in a spacious, exquisitely decorated house, the children facing no greater problem for the doctor than Bob’s long hair, which dad jokingly threatens to cut off and make the boy eat it.
As though to make up for this idyllic household, the doctor must face the wrath of Martin (Barry Keoghan), a sixteen-year-old, whose father, despite living a healthy life dies on the operating table during heart surgery. We in the audience can see the surgery visibly in cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’ close-up of a thumping heart in receipt of stitches. The surgery may not have ended well, as the patient’s heart is thrown into a basket with the used uniforms.
Feeling guilty about the botched surgery on Martin’s dad, Steven befriends the fatherless boy, who is grateful for the attentions, receiving gifts now and then and sounding like a fellow many moons ahead of his years. He even invites the boy into his home for dinners, at which time daughter Kim falls in love with him and takes rides on his motorbike. You’ve got to wonder, though, why Steven allows such visits given that the boy acts like a stalker, showing up in the hospital whenever he pleases without phoning ahead. Martin also invites the doctor to his own, not-so-great home, getting him interested in a movie on TV, “Groundhog Day” chosen specifically by Martin, and going to bed early so that his widowed mother (Alicia Silverstone) can flirt with Steven.
Call it a twist on the Greek tragic metaphor, but Steven is not simply a flawed human being messing with the gods: he plays a god himself, making life-and-death choices together with his anesthesiologist, Matthew (Bill Camp), a man who will figure in one of the many black-comic moments of this modern Greek-inspired tragedy. You may note that young Martin’s aim in introducing the doctor into his home is not only to allow a flirtation with his mother, but also to see whether he could act like a mortal man. He doesn’t. As a result, Steven’s children are punished. Make way for the supernatural.
It’s amazing what a top-drawer, hugely imaginative director can do, especially when accommodated by the superior performances of the movie’s ensemble. In the premier role, Colin Farrell, sporting a full beard and Irish accent courtesy of his Dublin birthplace, plays god convincingly with an exceptional role also by Barry Keoghan whose diabolical rendition of Martin is so effective that you might feel like jumping through the screen and strangling him.
Rated R. 120 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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