The Killing of a Sacred Deer Movie Meaning & Plot Analysis

“An eye for an eye” – the essence of the thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). The Killing of a Sacred Deer: the meaning, plot analysis, explanation of the film’s ending

Country: Ireland, UK

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama, Detective

Year of production: 2017

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Actors: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan

Awards and nominations: In 2017, the film won the Best Screenplay category at the Cannes Film Festival.

Yorgos Lanthimos critics refer to the representatives of the new – radical wave. This is due to the fact that he looks at many modern problems from a different and often strange angle.

At first glance, his picture raises the theme of fathers and children and the illusory nature of choice. But not everything is so simple. The meaning of the film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is closely connected with the ancient tradition: many mise-en-scenes of this absurd, frank, uncomfortable film are intertwined with mythological motifs.

What is the movie about?

A brief description of the content of the picture. The protagonist of the film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” Stephen Murphy is a successful heart surgeon. Stephen is married and has two children. Once, while in a state of mild alcohol intoxication, he undertook a complex heart operation, and his patient died. He did not suffer any punishment for this and showed no visible signs of remorse.

Colin FarrellColin Farrell played the role of Stephen Murphy and Barry Keoghan played the role of Martin. Frame from the film.

Soon Stephen meets a young man named Martin – the son of the deceased. The young man lives with his mother, who cannot support the family on her own. Feeling guilty towards the teenager, Dr. Murphy invites him to dinner at his house and introduces him to the family. The young man charms Steven’s wife and especially his daughter Kim.

From this moment, troubles begin: conflicts break out every now and then, and the children of Stephen and Anna become fatally ill. It turns out the incomprehensible: behind all the “devilry” is Martin. He declares to Stephen that he considers him guilty of the death of his father and demands retribution.

According to the vengeful young man, the life of a cardiac surgeon will return to its previous course if he agrees to make a deal: an eye for an eye. Or rather, a life for a life. One of his children must die, and Steven must choose who it will be …

Movie Analisis of The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The doctor is well aware that Martin is not a psychopath at all, but (no matter how wild and strange it may look in his rational scientific world) the personification of a vengeful deity, a man endowed with amazing abilities. Towards the end, a desperate Stephen agrees to “make an atoning sacrifice” and accidentally kills his son with a shot from a rifle.

After some time, the family, as if nothing had happened, goes to a cafe. There they meet Martin again. To find an explanation for the ending, you need to pay attention to what eyes they look at the young Murphy and how he looks at them in response.

There is fear in the eyes of the elders, but Kim looks at the guy almost playfully, as if forgetting that it was he who caused the death of her brother. Martin answers them all with a blank look: he finally got his revenge. But did it bring peace to his soul? ..

Based on this, the meaning of the ending of the film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is that the principle of “an eye for an eye” does not work. What is in the Old Testament, what is in the Greek tragedy, what is in reality – revenge cripples the soul and gives rise to a vicious bloody circle from which it is impossible to get out.

The meaning of the film The Killing of a Sacred Deer

“The Killing of the Sacred Deer” by Lanthimos frightens with the bare underside of life and reflects the animal nature in man. This tape is tragic and leaves a bitter aftertaste.

The meaning of the picture can be understood if we understand that it is based on the ancient Greek myth, rethought in the tragedy of Euripides “Iphigenia in Aulis”. By the way, the ancient work is mentioned in the film itself.

The “Killing of the Sacred Deer” was based on the events of the very beginning of the Trojan War. The troops of Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus, husband of the beautiful Helen, kidnapped by Paris, are about to sail to Troy. The warriors are stationed in Aulis and cannot set sail, because there is no favorable wind on the sea.

And this happens due to the fact that the goddess Artemis was angry with the army of Agamemnon. Her anger was caused by the fact that the king, carried away by hunting, killed a doe – a sacred animal of the goddess. The soothsayers revealed to him the will of the deity: Artemis demands a human sacrifice. It is necessary to commit the ritual murder of the king’s daughter, Iphigenia – then the army will be able to sail to Troy.

Agamemnon, tormented by doubts and repentance, nevertheless decides to sacrifice his daughter. In the myth, the goddess shows mercy to an innocent girl and replaces her on the altar with a sacred doe. However, with Euripides, everything is much gloomier: the unfortunate Iphigenia dies.

Nicole KidmanNicole Kidman as Anna Murphy. Frame from the film.

The idea of ​​revenge and restoration of the disturbed balance clearly sounds in the picture of Yorgos Lanthimos. He modernizes and transforms the myth, borrowing only its motives.

Cardiac surgeon Stephen somehow becomes involved in the death of his patient on the operating table. At least, the son of the deceased, Martin, is sure of this. The young man rubs himself into the confidence of Stephen’s daughter. He does not have romantic feelings for her and wants one thing – revenge.

If we draw a parallel with the myth, then the meaning of what is happening is as follows: the deceased patient acts as a sacred deer. Martin acts as Artemis, thirsting for revenge. The young man sends a curse on the doctor’s family in the spirit of ancient punishment. In the end, he forces the surgeon to choose one of the family members and sacrifice him in order to atone for the death of the patient.

In their analysis, the audience notes the director’s unusual look: a male face lowers a punishing hand on the culprit. Perhaps this approach reflects Lanthimos’s view of the nature of cruelty – he sees it solely as an attribute of masculinity.

The appearance of the heroes of the picture allows us to perceive them as ancient characters. Steven’s wild thick beard makes him look like Agamemnon. The golden, well-groomed hair of his wife Anna gives her a distant resemblance to Clytemnestra, the wife of the mythical king.

A feeling of discomfort and shocking frankness arises from the very first frames, when the viewer is shown a super-close-up of an open-heart operation. Anxiety builds throughout the film, and the moral message is generally baffling.

Raffy CassidyThe role of Kim was played by Raffi Cassidy. Frame from the film.

The heroes in their monologues and dialogues speak words of edification and predict the course of future events. By the way, this role is characteristic of the choir parts in ancient tragedies. The speech of the characters looks unnatural. However, their seemingly idle conversations suddenly take on a hidden meaning.

For example, Martin, wiping ketchup from his lips like blood, tells Anna that he eats spaghetti exactly like his late father. At some point, the young man realizes that the rest send pasta to his mouth in the same way. This unremarkable monologue hides a subtext: all people are equal. And this means that children can also suffer for the sins of the fathers. It doesn’t matter who pays. The main thing is that imaginary justice be done.

It’s hard not to be indignant at such a ridiculous assertion. The episodes in which the heart surgeon seriously chooses which of the children he should kill are terrifying. However, this is the very effect that Lanthimos is aiming for.

Particular attention in the picture is given to the scourge of our time and society – indifference. We see that there has been no intimacy between Stephen and Anna for a long time – and not only intimate, but also spiritual. The suffering of paralyzed children, who crawl helplessly on the floor, does not arouse compassion in parents. The doctor and his beautiful wife are rational, cold. At some point, it even seems that they are not the heroes of an ancient tragedy, but masked actors playing these characters in the ancient Greek theater – they are discussing so seriously which of the children can be sacrificed. Lanthimos resorts to a specific cinematic method called the reduction to the absurd. And this has a special meaning.

The painting “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, which tells about the monstrous indifference of people to each other, discourages, causes great discomfort. However, Lanthimos is not a misanthrope at all. On the contrary, causing rejection and indignation in the viewer with his metaphor, he wants to awaken humanity and morality in him. This is probably the essence of the film.

Murphy familyFrame from the film.

Another look

There is also an opinion that in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” an ordinary, mortal person is opposed to God. The bottom line is that Steven is a heart surgeon. He took upon himself the “duties” of God – to heal, to bring back to life. He failed and was punished.

Martin is not Rock, but a fallen angel. First, he tried to tempt Stephen and his daughter, and then outlined the essence of the punishment. The goal is to keep Steven from “washing his hands” by reducing the wrong action to a common mistake. It is for this reason that punishment is sent to his children (here, you can probably see a reference to the Old Testament – not only their children, but entire generations pay for the sins of the fathers).

But Anna is not punished. This can be explained by the fact that she refuses the idea that a person can control absolutely everything – that is, in fact, chooses the path of faith. Stephen, to the very end, is unable to comprehend similar dogmas. He wants to control and manage everything. And it doesn’t work…

It seems no coincidence that the son, not the daughter, dies. The daughter repents of her sins, and this saves her. The son openly declares that he dreams of following in the footsteps of his father (that is, he refuses the path of faith). Probably, it is for this that he is punished …

Teens Martin and KimFrame from the film.

Similar films

Here are a few films similar in meaning to The Killing of a Sacred Deer:

  • “Fang” (Greece, 2009). A friendly family lives in a large house behind a high fence and has almost no contact with the outside world. However, one of its members still has to do it.
  • The Lobster (Ireland, Great Britain, Greece, France, Netherlands, USA, 2015). The main character lives in a creepy dystopian world. According to his law, he must find a mate within 45 days – otherwise he will be turned into an animal.
  • “Reincarnation” (USA, 2018). After the death of her mother, Annie finds out about the terrible curse hanging over her family.

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