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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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook