The Killing of a Sacred Deer Yorgos
Lanthimos (Uk/Eire/Usa 2017) Colin
Farrell; Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan
viewed Tyneside Cinema 8th Nov 2017; ticket:
check your watch, it’s myth time.
Lanthimos’ movie ‘the Killing of a Sacred Deer’ (KSD) is a black comedy which Lanthimos guides with uncompromising intent conforming his film to the strictures of myth. The protagonist, heart surgeon Steven Murphy, can no more avoid evade or circumvent destiny than could Oedipus or Iphigenia. The forms adopted by myth are relentless engines of design that comprise those devices that lead to the preordained outcome: those that are marked to die, do so die, not by law but by force of logic. Lanthimos holds his sacred deer to logic.
Lanthimos’ script and scenario locate his film in the psychic heart (sic) of America: the hospital; the suburbs, generic settings that characterise the experience of being in America.
The film opens with a long durational shot, the huge close up of a heart undergoing open surgery. Initially this shot of Lanthimos seemed to be gratuitous, focusing our attention of the establishment of Steven, the heart surgeon. But as KSD progresses the shot works through the material as a significant allegorical pointer. That he who would save the heart of another has lost his own heart, that issues of the heart both actual and emotional are the core of the film which takes as its subjects those who have lost their heart, who have traded their feelings for a series out outer gestures. The main settings, the hospital and the suburbs, are understood as emptied spaces, vessels evacuated of meaning where the living perform the motions of being alive, but are absent from life itself. They water the plants, walk the dog, eat dinner, they live not as desire, but as mechanical rites.
Lanthimos’ camera films the main settings the medical and suburban zones as dis-connected from the human characteristics that should define them. The institutional shots of the hospital record the flat nature of the interfaces and surfaces: the long corridors, the consulting rooms, the patient rooms. One overhead shot onto the huge hospital escalators works as a condensation the hospital image: the industrialisation of the sick body. In the domestic location of the Murphy’s upper middle class family home the furnishings, the house design all seem selected not so much for use but rather as statements how the Murphy’s want to see themselves. And as Steven Murphy whirls about the suburban living room of his nice house, shooting randomly with a shotgun at his blindfolded and bound wife and two children, although no attention is specifically drawn to the expensive buttoned Chesterfield on which Ana is bagged and trussed, its quiet expression of money provide an ironic counterplay to the frantic comic scene being played out.
The core of the film is the eruption of myth into life. Myth as the dynamic that makes the heart pulse with life. Jung’s idea of myth as a form, a pre-existent mode that takes complete possession of a man or woman, defining appropriating situations so as to guide and mould their outcome. Once a mythic form castes its shadow across man, the ending is predestined there is no avoidance of a particular fate. Myth as an archetypal force that shapes destiny has its counterpart in scientific theories such as Darwin’s natural selection, where outcomes, the plumage of a peacock, determine the stages of its development.
That myth is a psychic reality, that nothing can happen without a pre-existing form (Jung) lies the heart of Lanthimos’ perception. It is the truth engine that drives KSD. And the compelling effect of his film is that he overlays the implacable logic of the playing out a sacrificial myth over the inconsequentiality of the life lived by his central characters. The Murphy’s live in the bubble of the American consumerist society, a land in which everything can be fixed, where there are no consequences. The outplaying of KSD is that this suburban dream life transposes and without anyone noticing is subsumed into a mythical form, in which everything has consequences and nothing can be fixed or averted. Steven will not be taking Bobby for piano lessons. Stephen will have to shoot Bobby. Lanthimos films and structures KSD in a neo-Brechtian vein of realisation. The shots are naturalistic but also have a didactic quality. Visually the shots of Bobby and Kim dragging their bodies across the floor like huge slugs are logical extensions of their situation. But as mythical images they have a didactic purpose, and also confirm that KSD, like many of von Trier’s movies, is a black social comedy, not a horror film.
The acting, as with Lanthimos’ other films is finely threaded into the skein of the movie. Colin Farrell takes on the patina of an ancient tribal king, all beard and deliberation, underplaying to deeper effect. The close up’s of all the players of which there are many, all have a distinctive quality of affect images which deepen the connection of the viewer to the unfolding events. Two in particular, a shot of Ana shadowed by a tree, which seems to suggest a gallows shot, and the big close-up of Kim riding pillion on Martin’s bike. Her face is set in a classic comic book True Romance expression of the girl who has found her first wonderful boyfriend. The girl who in this moment has had all her teenage fantasies fullfilled. Yet we know that this boy is the Angel of Death. And the Angel of Death himself, Barry Keoghan plays out as if he comes from the deep subterranean world of the Pythian oracle.
The West with its intransigent individualistic ethos, with its belief in self determination, is highly antagonistic to the proposition that people might be assimilated by mythic form. But perhaps in a social culture where collectivities and communities are disintegrating we become more vulnerable to being subsumed by mythic forms. Community and collectivity imply shared aspects of destiny. The lone individual is unhinged from the psychic anchor of the shared life, and as needs must have to forge their own fate. But without cultural resources it is perhaps radically isolated individuals who are most vulnerable to being assimilated into the a pre-existing form of myth. In particular those myths that speak of frustration fear and anger at not being able to control destiny. Myth such as the Herod myth with its massacre of the Innocents. Perhaps gun men, such as Steven Paddock the Las Vegas mass murderer, kill precisely because they are vulnerable to myth that give psychic reality to violence. Thus vulnerable they assimilate and act out forms such as Herod as a means of giving direction to a bereft life. Submission to the force of myth gives meaning and purpose to life when it becomes unbearably inconsequential. adrin neatrour email@example.com