Yorgos Lanthimos is a master of dead-black moral fables

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
RPL Film Theatre

Jan. 11–14

Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest foray into cinema starts suspiciously like his previous film, the absurdist sci-fi comedy The Lobster. Colin Farrell’s lead character — a renowned cardiologist — is introduced in monotonous, detached scenes, even though his behaviour hints at disturbing quirkiness (two words: pretend necrophilia).

As the movie progresses, The Killing of a Sacred Deer hits deeper themes: the futility of bargaining with fate and the horrific price of the greater good.

Unbeknownst to his family, Dr. Murphy (Farrell) meets with a very polite adolescent named Martin (Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk) on regular basis. The nature of this relationship is kept from the audience for a good chunk of the film but it doesn’t appear to be very wholesome. As Martin demands more time and dedication from the heart surgeon, Murphy becomes spooked and attempts to ghost the teen. This triggers a devastating response.

Lanthimos keeps his cards close to the chest until the second half, when the (somewhat) standard stalker drama morphs into an exercise in ethics and morals that I don’t wish to spoil. Suffice it to say the doctor learns there are limits to the power of modern medicine.

The auteur’s pitch-black sense of humour is perfectly calibrated to an Old Testament morality: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’s characters seem to have an “eye for an eye” worldview, and they can see their devastating and perverse pacts as reasonable, even desirable, arrangements in the right context. The new thing here is the naked despair marching alongside the comedy. The climax is both horrific and funny as heck.

Lanthimos is the world’s greatest creator of Colin Farrell movies. An often ineffective leading man (Winter’s Tale, Total Recall), Farrell has reinvented himself as a character actor (see also The Beguiled), but no one knows how to use him like Lanthimos. Add Nicole Kidman at the top of her game, Alicia Silverstone in her best role in a decade if not ever and a strong newcomer in Keoghan to the mix, and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a masterpiece.

See it on a first date. I dare you.