This film was co-awarded the BEST SCREENPLAY prize (along with Lynne Ramsay for “You were never really here“) during the Cannes Festival’s closing ceremony on May 28th, 2017)
Characters in Yorgos Lanthimos’s movies seem moved by strange spirits and unknown motivations. From the beginning of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” questions come up: what is the relationship of Dr. Steven Murphy, an established surgeon, to Martin (Barry Keoghan), a teenager who has no connection to the doctor or his family? Why is Martin so weird, anyway? Martin’s father died on the operating table a couple years earlier. The surgeon was Steven Murphy (played by a well-proportioned Colin Farrell, who also appeared in Lanthimos’s previous film, “The Lobster.” Farrell carries just enough mid-section fat to portray the everyman believably). Are the meetings they have together a way for the doctor to atone for some past sin? Atonement, the apparent theme of Lanthimos’s new film, currently on tap at the Cannes Festival (with several next-day screenings planned for Tuesday)?
If not for wanting to atone, then why else would a respected surgeon from a major hospital take the time to regularly meet with a teenager in a diner to exchange gifts with him, and even go to his home for dinner? Atonement can be a powerful thing, but Lanthimos gives us very little, at first, to go on as to what that past failing is. People die on the operating table, it happens all the time. Martin’s father had a heart condition, it got the better of him.
The life that Steven Murphy has made for himself is perfection, although he rarely smiles. That kind of life attracts the attention of others. Murphy is a surgeon who’s highly regarded in his field, he lives in a large, beautiful home, with land and an expensive BBQ grill on it and he invites colleagues over on hot afternoons for cookouts. He has a beautiful wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children. Seeing all these riches makes you wonder if this kind of perfect life exists in reality.
The night Steven Murphy goes to Martin’s home for dinner they watch “Groundhog Day” together. That’s Martin’s favorite movie. He goes to bed in the middle of the movie, claiming that he’s tired. The doctor and Martin’s mother are alone now, and Martin’s mother is clearly not lingering on account of the movie. She has designs on the unsuspecting man. Is Martin trying to cobble together a new family for himself? After the doctor’s son, young Bob (an actor named Sunny Suljic) is suddenly unable to move his legs one morning, tragic events begin taking place with the kind of near-hedonistic mercilessness associated with Yorgos Lanthimos’s films.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” was tapped by French cable channel CanalPlus as being the most likely to win the Palme D’Or, based on some number-crunching it did that takes past winners and their age, and whether this is a European filmmaker whose film is being judged by a jury led by a European president (as it were, this is the case this year) under consideration.
Ali Naderzad is at the Cannes Festival from May 17-27th, 2017.