By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Review: KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

SACRED DEER

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Yorgos Lanthimos’ grandest achievement yet, a huge film in so many ways. But that vastness coud prove insurmountable by those turned off by the bite of Dogtooth or snap of The Lobster.

For those who embraced those beasts with bloodied arms, this A24 film is also the most accessible film by Lanthimos and his regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou. Squeamish be damned: his follow-up Competition bow begins with a clinical close-up of open-heart surgery and ends with, well… just the opposite, really (if I can be vague enough as to imply what a heartbreaking Lanthimos ending can look like).

This theme of hearts—loved ones, the idea that family ties are quantifiable—is what Sacred Deer canters satirically on throughout its 109 minutes. The plot, while easily summarized, is characteristically mysterious: after a death on his operating table, the children of cardiologist Steven (Colin Farrell) begin to experience inexplicable illnesses, beginning with paralysis and leading to loss of appetite.

Baffling his medical colleagues as they run studies, the curse that’s getting worse seems to be stemming from Martin (Barry Keoghan), the strange, teenaged son of Steven’s late patient, who Steven had befriended following the funeral as a sign of humanity.

But, as we know, humanity is exactly what’s on the chopping block in a Yorgos Lanthimos film. And like Dogtooth, this examination of the human family unit is conveyed like an experiment by scientists from another world: these are people, here are their biological functions, and here is how you unravel (read: fuck with) their self-imposed morals.

That The Killing of a Sacred Deer feels so distinctly alien is not unintentional. Take, for instance, Martin’s intentionally Pinocchio levels of wooden dialogue—off at first, incredibly unsettling soon after. The film, through its entirety, is captured via camera angles demanding squinting and neck-craning—if the camera is moving, it’s often above, below, or far away from its subjects. Its Under the Skin-esque thrums of unsettling instrumentals sound like transmissions from deepest space.

Perhaps an extraterrestrial reading explains the mystery behind its premise—but if we take this at face value, it’s a film of psychological detachment. At the very least, Steven and his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) will need to be equally detached to gain closure from this ordeal.

It’s an awfully brutal comedy, and an ultimately successful one: by asking his audience to prepare for a fatal solution to a family’s foregone conclusion, Lanthimos gets away with murder. Though if you’ve studied the canon of psychological horror films the director clearly invokes in this playful nightmare, you already knew that such a thing was possible.

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“The sad and painful truth is that pretty much everyone in this town knew who Harvey was. I have had long talks with my most liberal friends. Did we know he was a rapist? We didn’t. But did we know that for decades he has been offering actresses big careers in exchange for sexual favors? Yes, we did — and make no mistake, that is its own kind of rape. And did we all — or did any of us — refuse to do business with him on moral grounds? No. We ALL STAYED IN BUSINESS WITH HIM. I have never done business with Harvey but I can tell you with certainty that I would have — because I was recently approached by a film festival he sponsors. They asked me to submit my short film for their consideration and I did it without thinking twice. I am a dyed-in-the-wool feminist and a vocal one at that. So why didn’t I think twice? Because this entire town is built on the ugly principals that Harvey takes to an horrific extreme. If I didn’t work with people whose behavior I find reprehensible, I wouldn’t have a career.”
~ Showrunner Krista Vernoff

From AMPAS president John Bailey:

Dear Fellow Academy Members,

Danish director Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is not only one of the visual landmarks of the silent era, but is a deeply disturbing portrait of a young woman’s persecution in the face of the male judges and priests of the ruling order. The actress Maria Falconetti gave one of the most profoundly affecting performances in the history of cinema as the Maid of Orleans.

Since the decision of the Academy’s Board of Governors on Saturday October 14 to expel producer Harvey Weinstein from its membership, I have been haunted not only by the recurring image of Falconetti and the sad arc of her career (dying in Argentina in 1946, reputedly from a crash diet) but of Joan’s refusal to submit to an auto de fe recantation of her beliefs.

Recent public testimonies by some of filmdom’s most recognized women regarding sexual intimidation, predation, and physical force is, clearly, a turning point in the film industry—and hopefully in our country, where what happens in the world of movies becomes a marker of societal Zeitgeist. Their decision to stand up against a powerful, abusive male not only parallels the cinema courage of Falconetti’s Joan but gives all women courage to speak up.

After Saturday’s Board of Governors meeting, the Academy issued a passionately worded statement, expressing not only our concern about harassment in the film industry, but our intention to be a strong voice in changing the culture of sexual exploitation in the movie business, already common well before the founding of the Academy 90 years ago. It is up to all of us Academy members to more clearly define for ourselves the parameters of proper conduct, of sexual equality, and respect for our fellow artists throughout our industry. The Academy cannot, and will not, be an inquisitorial court, but we can be part of a larger initiative to define standards of behavior, and to support the vulnerable women and men who may be at personal and career risk because of violations of ethical standards by their peers.

Yours,
John