“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: “Lobster” director plays again on our unspoken fantasies to build horror

The Killing of a Sacred Deer” opens with a beating heart, encased in a chest cracked open like “The Lobster” (May 22, 2016).  Then we see a surgeon take off his gloves and dispose of them.  We see his sleek hands (a line later used a few times in the script written with Efthymis Flippou), and that at least his forearms are still softly haired, as if the ultimate future of infection control were not yet in place.

I’m introducing the latest quirky horror comedy (or satire) from Yorgos Lanthimos, and it has a plot concept that feints of ephebophilia, and then plays on male fetish obsessions that have been frankly significant in my own life to build a plot and a rather horrific and tragic climax.

The music score, with Schubert, Bach, and especially Lygeti, underlines the urgency for the characters, but maybe it could have added Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs of the Death of Children”).

Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is the heart surgeon and cardiologist in a Cincinnati hospital. (The city looks sharp in the film, especially in multiple scenes across the Ohio river from Covington, KY.)  In his past, he once lost a patient at age 46 apparently during some routine bypass surgery. That deceased patient’s verbal teenage son, Martin (Barry Keoghan) starts showing up in Murphy’s life, mostly by self-invitation.

Murphy has built an impressive family in his palatial home, with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and gender fluid son Bob (Sonny Suljic) and teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). At first, the daughter teases Martin about his lack of body hair (some teens would normally have more) and Martin pretends to be ill and shows up at Murphy’s office for a physical. There is a scene with a stress test, with eight leads, where Martin asks what would happen if he were hairy, and Murphy admits he would have to be chest-shaved, and that it could take a little while to grow back.  Murphy even gets into mention of “hormones” (reminding me of my own Ft. Eustis days). Martin even asks to see Murphy’s chest.  There’s also, as I recall, an odd line about replacing a grabby metal wristwatch with leather. Martin acts as if he believed the world had some sort of fascist conspiracy to eliminate less desirable men (like the Nazis did) as if this could be eroticized. For a little while, the film has you wondering if indeed Murphy is falling into an illegal relationship with the teen boy.

But at midpoint, the film takes a surprising twist. Bob, and then Kim, develop a kind of guillain- barre syndrome, with intermittent and then persistent leg paralysis, when medical tests can find nothing wrong. In a particularly arresting scene Martin threatens Murphy by suggesting that he (Martin) is causing the syndrome with some supernatural curse.

I’m not sure that the conclusion, which involves some vengeful violence against Martin and then a lottery to find the “deer” is necessarily all that convincing.  Some critics will say that Stephen gets his wish, to play god again. That’s a problem with setting up an erotic premise like this:  it is hard to find somewhere to go.

Wiki picture of downtown Cincinnati.  My visits: 1992, 2012.

Wiki picture of a Holter Monitor on a young adult male, underscoring Martin’s concerns.

Picture: Mt Vernon, Ohio, 2012, my trip.

Somehow the title and tone of this film reminds me of “The Killing of Sister George” (1968, Palomar, dir. Robert Aldrich, with Beryl Reid.) I;m also reminded of Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal) with Steve Carell as hapless.

Name: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director, writer:  Yorgos Lanthimos, wr with Efthymis Flippou
Released:  2017/10/27
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/29 fair crowd
Length:  116
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24, Film4, Hanway
Link:  distributor

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at 8:30 PN EDT)


“The Lobster”: satire on the idea that single and childless people can bring down a nation



Name: The Lobster
Director, writer:  Yorgos Lanthimos with Ethymis Filippou
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1 film
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, Sat PM, 2016/5/21, moderate audience
Companies: A24
Link: Official site

The Lobster” is vicious satire, of on the basic tenets of most authoritarian cultures: every adult should be married and raise kids, or else he (especially) becomes a dangerous parasite on “the people.”

The title is about as symbolic as “Grapes of Wrath” (in an “I Love Lucy” episode).  When asked what kind of animal he wants to become if he fails to find a romantic partner in the 45 days allowed at this luxury hotel, David, the protagonist, says, indeed, that crustacean, because it has blue blood and lives a century – hope it doesn’t wind up in a supermarket to be boiled alive.

Now David, plays by Colin Farrell, looks uncouth enough.  He has a moderate pot belly, hanging over the belt, kept in place by a padlock.

You get the picture.  The “patients” have been swept off the streets in a dystopian future (ok, “Hunger Games”), set in Ireland, were fascism has recaptured the entire West. Men wandering in public are confronted by police to prove they are married, just like women in Muslim countries must be covered. Chronic delinquents are sent to the hotel.

We learn about how this works “on the outside” in the 118-minute film’s second act, set in the woods, run by the rebels, who, while providing relief from the 45-day rule, enforce their own brutal kind of discipline.  OK, choose between fascism and communism.  The irony is, of course, is that Dave finds love, of sorts, with the “Short Sighted Woman” (Rachel Weisz), and the movie tells us its backstory with their clandestine trips to the “city”.  To cement their love, in the end, David must mutilate himself in one of the most unthinkable, grating ways imaginable (and it’s not what you first expect).

The Spa rules are a bit mixed.  Homosexual couples are actually allowed (but bisexuality and transgender is not). Masturbation is forbidden.  When a relatively attractive straight couple (both tend to have nosebleeds) marries, the Hotel will supervise them to make sure they consummate the marriage.  If they don’t make it, then an “OPC” (one of “other people’s children”) will be assigned to them as an adoptee.

Throughout the movie, the dialogue is cleverly worded, perhaps tastelessly, as it tries to anticipate how an autistic person (or someone with Asperger’s) would say something.  From a “mental health” viewpoint, the film mixes up the ideas of Asperger’s with schizoid personality.

The film has other odd effects, with tranquilizer guns, as if to make political statements about weapons, and sometimes seems to be recreating Stephen King ideas (like in “The Shining”, 1981).  You have to applaud Olivia Colman for her chilling performance as the hotel manager.

The music score uses string quartet music by Beethoven (#7), Scnittke, Britten (#1), and Shostakovich (#8, with the famous three-chord motive) very chillingly.

The official site claims that it determines “your second chance animal”.  I’m rather reminded of the afterlife promised in Michael Anderson’s “Logan’s Run” (1976).


The movie certainly caused me to recreate my own days at NIH as a patient at NIH in 1962, and of my expulsion from William and Mary in 1961, when the Dean learned that, as an only child, I would probably not carry on the family lineage, and he had to tell my parents.  That pretty much explains Vladimir Putin’s attitude in underpopulated dystopian Russia today.

The distributor, A24, is getting a reputation for releasing edgy sci-fi films and social experiments.

Wikipedia attribution link for Irish scenery typical of the movie by Joebater, under CCSA 3.0.

I have a brief review on imdb of the movie here.

This is a good place to mention “The Bachelor” (1999, New Line), directed by Gary Senyor and Roy Cooper Mengure, based on the 1925 play “Seven Chances” by Jean Havez.  The comedy film plays on the idea of the “dead hand”, an idea from Victorian English novels that doesn’t have much currency now.  Chris O’Donnell plays the heir who will lose his unearned fortune if he doesn’t get married by age 30, as I remember.  Though the subject of cash cow comedy, the idea really isn’t funny in real life.

(Published: Saturday, May 21, 2016 at 8:45 PM EDT)