director: Yorgos Lanthimos
writers: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan
genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
released: 3 November 2017 (USA), 2 November 2017 (Greece), 16 November 2017 (Australia), 28 December 2017 (Germany)
Some people find meaning in works of art that offer the lowest amount of explanation and reason you can imagine. Sometimes this work of art has enough clues, world building and meaning to allow for viewers to have some faint idea of what transpired or make up their own interpretation of what they saw. Then they are some works that despite your efforts of trying to find a rational meaning to the story's overall point and character actions you just fall flat.
An awkward relationship is taking place between a family man Dr. Murphy (Colin Farrell) and a teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan). This relationship at first, while odd seems mildly acceptable to only become more strenuous and unethical as the Doctor starts focusing more on his own wife and children. This will put the two at odds and result in the young boy's retaliation to them in the most just way he sees fit.
Yorgos Lanthimos career is on an upward trend to the heights of global art cinema. He can get his films funded by almost any private investor he wants or minor studio, which is enough to play in most independent cinemas around the world. Packing the theaters with films containing big stars, luxurious music and acts of debauchery that exist only to perplex you in terms of their actual need and tenuous with their connection to the plot and characters arcs. These dark comedies as characterized by many of his admirers do indeed have great performances, an admirable bleak atmosphere and direction that you would think make them into some good dramatic content. However, that wouldn't be 100% accurate.
His latest film 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer' is about Colin Farrell's character Dr. Murphy's relationship with this weird and odd looking kid Martin and the repercussions of it. MAJOR SPOILERS from here on. We find out in the film that this friendship is only because Dr. Murphy is a cardiologist who was involved in Martin's father's failed surgery. What's problematic about this is that the film doesn't inform us on what Martin knows about this surgery or why Dr. Murphy hangs out with him. Neither are these things remotely implied in the film and you only get answers to certain things, while others you merely have to accept as unanswerable. At first, we believe it's guilt on Dr. Murphy's side and the gaining of a father figure on Martin's. It ends up this wasn't the case for Martin, but for Dr. Murphy most likely is the case, but based on certain events in the film and dialogue this could be misconstrued. As later in the film when Dr. Murphy decides to cut ties with Martin, he decides to put a curse, poison or whatever you want to call it (as its never explained) on his family. Not because he cut contact, but because he killed his father on the operating table (due to being intoxicated). How Martin came to know this information or got to that conclusion so conveniently at that point in the film is questionable.
With this twist the film could have gone down two paths or went on one of these paths already and we the audience may have not even gotten light of it. As it's in this director's 'MO' to not enlighten his audience on any intention he may have. One of these two paths is that Martin guilt tripped Dr. Murphy into this friendship knowing he had killed his father and Murphy agreed to it fearing the consequences. The problem with this is that it's never implied, with Dr. Murphy never admitting to anything close to that and the bigger problem with this scenario is what does Martin gain exactly by hanging out with his father's "killer". The second path would have been Dr. Murphy felt sincere guilt for his actions and thought to help the kid in his loss, with Martin not knowing the real details behind his father death and seeing later on Dr. Murphy as a father figure. This though never played out sadly as many would have wished had. As it would have made the film much more endearing for the character of Martin, who then would have been truly conflicted after being lied and coerced into this relationship. While then having to face the predicament of becoming the worse version in himself or the best. Either by forgiving Dr. Murphy and taking the best he could give or incacting his so called voodoo justice. The fact of that matter is that these paths never were taken and the honest truth is its a mess how the film dealt overall with Martin's true nature, motives and knowledge.
Furthermore, problematic is Martin's powers so to speak and how he enacts justice on Dr. Murphy's family. They all get a curse to put it bluntly of being first paralyzed, then not hungry and then finally bleeding from the eyes before they die. This has supposedly symbolism with the Ancient Greek story of 'Iphigenia', but I couldn't care less of its correlation. Why should I accept mystic, godlike voodoo powers from a 16 year old kid who knew exactly what this doctor had done when there was no opportunity to know or explain how he has these evil powers. Is he a follower of a cult group, is he a master chemist, or a hypnotist? I know art films aren't much for giving clues, making sense or at least leaving you on a cliffhanger, but there is no real mystery and meaning behind this character's actions and powers. And to equate the death of a sacred deer that a God owned to a young misfit boy and the death of his father is minuscule in comparison. While also the equation of Martin as the devil and Dr. Murphy as God as I have read in some reviews is laughable.
Moreover, something that I have elaborated on in the past, but still see it being done is the showcasing of immoral characters in films by filmmakers and believing that audiences have the mood or willpower to follow them down the road to hell without seeking repentance or showing remorse. Here in the film in particular, the whole Dr. Murphy family is immoral to the point of family blindness. The family at many points are unbelievably unethical and embarrassingly evil and with no real explanation why to this extent. The Dr. yes did an evil act of being drunk in the surgery room, but why did he keep the Martin relationship a secret from his wife and requires her to be a certain type of individual in their sexual life. Then there is the wife character played by Nicole Kidman who acts brutish at times, but again with no real reason why. With a scene out of the blue in the film where she wants to play detective and we come to the sudden revelation in the film that she had been two timing the Dr. with his colleague the obese anesthesiologist for who knows why. As if this was cut out of the film, it would have made no difference whatsoever. Lastly there is the two kids, with the daughter who bewilderingly falls in love with Martin even though he is odd looking, but let's move past this superficial nitpick. She becomes for him pure evil in thought and actions, instigating the death of her brother, wishing her mother to suffer in pain and agony, disobeying her father and then begging him for death suddenly for what? It really made no sense and if it was all concocted just to create tension in the film and for them to be brought at odds from within, it's incredibly shallow and obvious.
Also, it seems kind of on purpose that the whole family had committed acts of evil and the only one who was pure was the boy who died at the end, making it all too much on the nose and still without much meaning. I mean what was the morale of this story, that evil prevails? that justice is to the eye of the beholder? that its better live with sin than sacrifice yourself for the greater good?
However, let's get into the nitty-gritty of the film's disgusting content and how it seems to only be there for shock value and without an inherit purpose or payoff. As disgusting scenes would only make sense if they were to show these people going on new and destructive they did not go before and or for purposes of the story and character progression. For example in the film Nicole Kidman's character fornicates with her husband's colleague for info on Martin. The issue is that this wasn't the case entirely, as the colleague pretty much fills us in with dialogue that they have been doing activities like this in the past. So she isn't partaking in immoral activities to save her family, she is just merely doing what she had been doing before, but now for a payment of sorts so it really doesn't matter. This is not the only example of perverse scenes in the film, but it shows that these kind of scenes don't make a lot of sense without context, meaning or character progression. For example the film 'Shame' is about a sexual addict, so it makes perfect sense for the film to show his activities as he is going on a path of gradual self destruction. Here the film is about as far as we can see about an immoral family who deserve what they get with no standard of what is right or wrong set in the film and no real distinction of the characters wanting to be better in their lives. We are forced to accept a reality where characters are merely inconvenienced by others due to unexplained events, motives and powers and where almost all the main characters in the film are devoid of morality.
The great thing about mysteries and thrillers is that you're at least given clues to the mystery and ultimately care about the characters involved in the tragic events of the story. Something, filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos might not be entirely aware of, but still thought it worth the effort of making such a film. Where the underlying meanings are connected to immoral and disgusting characters who learn nothing from their actions and their connections to life are up in the air and with many viewers even determining some of the films events to even be slightly comedic. Which is hilarious in of itself as there isn't anything comedic about this film and neither anything transcendent, just painstakingly inconvenient for the characters and for the audience.