The male of the specious
One more privileged white guy is not really what he seems
According to the Greek legend, King Agamemnon accidentally killed Artemis’s sacred deer, causing the goddess to demand the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia. In The Killing of a Sacred Deer, “Artemis” is an awkward, creepy adolescent boy, Martin (Barry Keoghan).
He accepts unusual attention and expensive gifts from Steven (Colin Farrell), a surgeon whom Martin holds responsible for the death of his father on the operating table. When the boy begins to stalk Steven’s family, the surgeon’s gifts are revealed for their true transactional nature. Martin, abandoned by Steven, curses his family with medical problems that will persist until the father chooses one of them to die, or until their bodies all fail.
Steven’s youngest child Bob (Sunny Suljic) loses sensation in his legs; his daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) endures an inexplicable paralysis. Martin’s magical ability is never explained. Director Yorgos Lanthimos seems uninterested in detailing his supernatural story. He makes the viewer suffer through his modern-day parable and exploits the fundamental narrative blocks of Greek mythology without imbuing them with contemporary relevance.
Lanthimos’s style is often cold, artful and exact — his use of classical music lends a serious, macabre tone. Further distancing the movie from audiences is the mechanical monotone dialogue.
It’s an overdone style for European filmmakers and often these films are critical of bourgeois values. Here, Steve’s pragmatic lifestyle is parodied to the point of ridicule. Yes, he shares a pristine home with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), but their conversations — like Steve’s casual mention of his daughter’s commencement of menses to his coworkers — are supposed to somehow reveal the soulless nature of such a lifestyle.
Only when Steve faces an inescapable moral dilemma arising from his own cowardice and shame is he finally challenged in life. That’s about the only point that Sacred Deer has to make. So, Steve is yet another useless male character who’s hidden his flaws under the professional protection of his powerful white medical coat — so what? Lanthimos and his European arthouse contemporaries offer no solution in their overly stylized, torturous criticisms of cowardice in white, middle-class masculinity, which neither enlivens us nor makes us think.
Nicole Kidman stars in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which is overly stylized and under developed.