What would you do if you had to literally sacrifice one of the people you love the most to make the others survive? Thats the premise behind Yorgos Lanthimos latest film The Killing of Sacred Deer.
The ancient Greek story of Iphigenia is probably the most heartbreaking and shocking one if you think of it on moral terms. In most of the versions, she’s one of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s three daughters. According to the myth, one day King Agamemnon kills a deer, not knowing that he was inside Artemis’ sacred grove. As it’s natural among Greek deities, she is determined to make Agamemnon pay for his huge offense. When the King decides to support his brother Menelaus in his war against the Trojans for taking his wife Helen, the goddess decides to act. Right in the middle of the ocean she makes the winds stop his ships from advancing. Frustrated, he starts looking for the responsible of this. An oracle tells him that Artemis is furious at him for killing a sacred animal in sacred land, so his punishment for such offense is to sacrifice his eldest and most virtuous daughter, Iphigenia.
In some of the versions he does sacrifice her to win the goddess' forgiveness, while in others it’s mentioned that right at the moment when she’s about to be killed Artemis feels pity for her and puts a stag in her place, and then takes Iphigenia as one of her main priestesses. Either way, Agamemnon never doubts for a minute on what to do and for him being forgiven and continue his war is more important than the life of his daughter. With that myth in mind, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos envisioned his latest film The Killing of a Sacred Deer. In a strange mixture between very dark humor and the scheme of the scariest psychological thrillers, the movie is pretty normal if you’re familiar with Lanthimos’ films. If not, this is going to be the weirdest and most disturbing things you’ll ever watch.
The movie presents us with Steven, a successful cardiothoracic surgeon apparently living the perfect life: great job, a gorgeous house, lovely wife, and two kids. However, things aren’t as great as they seem. Behind closed doors, his family dynamics are kind of depressing and there's a lack of real communication between Steven and the rest of his family. This changes when he starts frequenting a young kid called Martin, who Steve believes has a neurological problem. He soon becomes some sort of tutor and gives him the attention no one in his family really seems to need. As their relationship strengthens, he decides to tell his family about this kid, who as a matter of fact is of the same age and studies with his eldest daughter.
Somehow everybody receives this kid into their family and he becomes quite close to all of them bringing a new light into their dynamics. But soon, Steven starts feeling there’s something wrong and decides to put some distance between them, which infuriates Martin. Since the beginning of the movie, you can tell Martin isn’t the regular sad or depressed kid who lost someone important, but there’s something strange about his behavior towards the doctor and the insistence of being an important part of the family. That’s explained when after being ignored by Steven, Martin pays him a visit at the hospital, and tells him that he’s placed a curse over his family. As revenge, or a strange way to get a just balance in life, the only way to lift the curse is by sacrificing one of the family's members.
I won't go further with the story, since we've only talked about the premises of the plot, but let me tell you that things get creepier and darker. What’s so amazing about the film, especially if you’re not familiar with Lanthimos' work, is that the movie takes you towards one direction, so you feel you’re watching some drama movie with tints of an obscure thriller, only to discover a darker and more sinister side of the plot. In a way, this becomes a modern revisitation of this dark ancient myth, but taken into a more extreme and frightening level, that of reality. This makes you question, what would you do? Is there a way out without making the people you love pay for your mistakes? And more important, is it really some universal justice that can be paid through sacrifice and going against your morals? All these questions are the ones that will definitely disturb you the most in a very well accomplished modern fable.
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