Meaning of the movie The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a 2017 drama film directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and awarded Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. History has at least two semantic planes: the history of crime and punishment or sacred sacrifice and, even more curiously, the political background, the metaphorical essence of America’s economic and political relations with the world (the second can be considered only as one of the theories, but rather an interesting theory). What is the meaning of the film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” we will begin to consider, having briefly analyzed the plot component. Let’s take a step-by-step look at what the movie The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about.

What is The Killing of a Sacred Deer about?

The plot of the film initially surprises with a sense of understatement and mystery, not for nothing that one of the genres of this work is considered a detective story. A fairly successful surgeon with a family (wife and two children), periodically meets in a diner with a certain young man, still a teenager. They have lunch together, Stephen Murphy (that’s the name of the surgeon) even makes Martin (the name of the teenager) a rather expensive gift. The viewer can only guess what kind of relationship these people are in. However, as the story progresses, the following story from the surgeon’s past is revealed. He, being in a state of mild alcohol intoxication, undertook to carry out a complex heart operation. And, it remains unknown, or the alcohol intoxication of the operating surgeon is to blame, or is it really the will of the case, but the patient dies on the surgical table. This patient was Martin’s father. As a result of this tragic incident, Martin is left without a father, and his mother is a widow, unable to support her family on her own. Dr. Murphy did not bear any responsibility for this incident, and the viewer does not even know whether he was really guilty, and he will not know this even after watching the film to the end.

Once the main character even invites a teenager to dinner at his house, introduces his wife and children. Everyone likes a rather pleasant young man, Stephen’s daughter shows interest in Martin. And from this very moment, the incomprehensible begins. The surgeon’s children fall ill with an incomprehensible deadly disease, conflicts break out in the house. It turns out that Martin is to blame for this, being either a vengeful deity, or simply possessing powers beyond the scope of human understanding. Dr. Murphy tries to save the children by kidnapping Martin and keeping him in the basement, but it doesn’t work. The teenager claims that in order for the life of the surgeon to return to its previous course, he must restore justice, pay the price of life for the life of his father, sacrifice one of his children. Driven to despair, Dr. Murphy agrees and kills his son (the choice fell on him through a kind of “Russian roulette”). The film ends with the Murphy family and Martin meeting at a diner some time later. The family that lost their son behaves as if nothing happened, eats a lot and tasty, and Murphy’s daughter stares at the teenager, as if forgetting that he is to blame for the death of her brother.

Movie Meaning of The Killing of a Sacred Deer

As mentioned above, the meaning of the film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” should be considered on two levels. The first level, the mythological level (mostly tied to ancient mythology, which is not surprising, because Lanthimos is a Greek, is revealed on the example of three well-known stories. This is the myth of Iphigenia, the myth of the sacred deer of Artemis (hence, by the way, the name of the film) and the myth about the sacrifice of Isaac. The myths about Iphigenia and Isaac are clearly visible here: in both cases, children are sacrificed for the sins of their fathers. In these cases, it is not even about killing a sacred deer, not even about breaking a taboo, but about a redeeming sacrifice: Iphigenia, sacrificed to the gods so that her father’s ships could advance to the war with Troy, Isaac, who became a victim to prove his father’s obedience to God, Murphy’s son Bob, who became a sacrifice to the “vengeful god” – these are not sacred deer, these are maximum lambs for slaughter.Who, then, is this most sacred deer?One of the myths about Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of hunting, says that a hunter who accidentally killed a deer from the retinue of the goddess, her favorite, was himself raised into a deer and hunted down during a hunt. The essence of the myth is not the vindictiveness of the goddess, but that a mortal committed criminal negligence while hunting in a sacred grove. His mistake violated some ancient principle, the principle of the inviolability of the retinue of the goddess, for which he was punished. Murphy is also punished for criminal negligence, he, having violated the rules (you can not drink before the operation), becomes guilty, even if Martin’s father should have died anyway. After all, the poor hunter did not know that he was killing the sacred deer, his mistake was already in the fact that he was hunting in the sacred grove. According to this myth, Dr. Murphy himself had to pay with his life, but Lanthimos interweaves a new mythological plot, that is, the answer of children for the sins of their fathers. So, father Martin should be considered a sacred deer. And the fact that the title refers specifically to his murder makes the viewer understand that the surgeon is still convicted for the death of Father Martin, he must be considered guilty of the murder. At this level, the meaning of the ending is that the price of the mistake is paid and life goes on. And, no matter how terrible the indifference of the Murphy family looks, everything is logical: Agamemnon, having sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, does not grumble at the bloodthirsty gods. He knows what the price is.

Another semantic layer is the condemnation of American society as a society of thoughtless consumption, leading to tragic consequences for other countries. Surgeon Murphy represents here America, leading the “surgical intervention” in the economic and political life of other countries, but by unacceptable methods (Murphy is drunk). When intervention leads to tragedy and American society has to pay (American society here is the Murphy family), then the ruling elite (the head of the family, Murphy himself) sacrifices the weakest part of his society (youngest son). Then the meaning of the ending changes. The injured and avenged side sees “American society” as having forgotten about the tragedy and again endlessly consuming (a lot of fast food on the table of the Murphy family).

Write in the comments your assumptions and theories about what the film The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about and what its meaning is. We look forward to waiting!

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