In the second English-language film, and fifth feature-length film of his career, director Yorgos Lanthimos continues to create weird cinema that analyzes the human condition. The Killing of a Sacred Deer follows the trials of a surgeon confronted with inhumane consequences at the hands of a teenage boy after accidentally killing the boy’s father on the operating table.
Lanthimos has a penchant for analyzing humans by observing them in inhuman situations. 2015’s, The Lobster, which also stars Colin Farrell in the lead role, weaves together an analysis of romance. It tells a story wherein single adults check into a hotel, tasked with finding a romantic partner within 45 days, or face being turned into an animal of their choosing. Prior to his investigation of romance, Dogtooth studied parenthood and childrearing by examining a family in which the children are raised completely segregated from society. Lanthimos painstakingly lays out what happens to the children when left to the whim of the twisted morality which the parents set out for them.
Lanthimos consistently delivers top shelf narratives that unfold in complete mystique, yet grip the viewer’s attention in the midst of confusion. He plays with the audience by revealing his story as if it were a novel. His films reveal only information that is crucial to the plot, and never wastes a minute explaining anything else. Audiences have to calculate dates and times by historical references, or passing remarks in a conversation.
As a consistent tactic in his films, and most particularly in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos creates space between everything. He does so both visually and sequentially through editing and cinematography, as well as character development. Visually, the film is easily digestible; walls tend to be painted in vapid, solid colours or repetitive patterns in order to remove them from consideration. A washed-out colour palette pulls the focus of viewers to the characters. In his characters, he removes any characteristics or emotions that do not follow or highlight the narrative intentions of the film. The characters all retain significant and even relatable human characteristics, but they are revealed through stripped-down, emotionless dialogue, and matter-of-fact delivery of even the most vulnerable lines.
Lanthimos also creates space by limiting the amount of characters featured in the film. There are three primary characters, two supporting characters, and two others on the fringe. Aside from these seven, there are only a handful of other humans that cross the screen, and no others that speak. By creating all this space in this film (as he does in others), Lanthimos frees up the viewer’s line of sight, allowing them to focus only on the visual elements of his choosing.
Lanthimos’ upcoming 2018 film, The Favourite, indicates a departure from his norm. Rumours state that the film will be a tale of intrigue in the court of Queen Anne in early 18th-century England. Notably, Stanley Kubrick also departed from a string of thrillers with the Victorian era drama, Barry Lyndon, in 1975. It could be that Lanthimos was inspired by Kubrick in his decision to pursue an historical drama — or it could be that he made a name for himself making weird films so that he could convince studios to fund his secret dream of making a lavish historical drama. Either way, any speculation is unfounded, but the parallel could prove to be interesting in the future. Especially if he continues on the path he is on, which seems to be leading him to a spot in history as one of the great filmmakers of our time.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer rolls up the darkest analysis of human nature with a most charming choral score and off-kilter humour you often can’t help but snort at. It’s this atypical marriage that leads the film to true success. Lanthimos makes a film that somehow, through its absurdity, digs into the real stuff of being human. The Killing of a Sacred Deer doesn’t seem like the kind of film that would be accessible to all, but I dragged a friend along who’s had a steady diet of Marvel heroes for years and even he could see the beauty in it. Drink it in folks, to be human is to be weird, and Lanthimos has a lot of weird to show you.