If you had to choose between them, which would you say is the best?

If you had to choose between them, which would you say is the best?

 

As we look around at the people we meet in life, we can usually point to the people who have done the best for themselves. Often they are the ones with the most rewarding jobs, perhaps the ones with the flashiest lifestyles. Now and then, the select few who get both.

It’s easy to be jealous of these people – to covet so much of what they have. It’s even tempting to conflate success with moral fortitude. Seldom is that the case though.

In reality, it doesn’t take much to tear apart the most seemingly successful. Sometimes all it takes is the strength to look a person in the eye and say “I know what you did”

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER doesn’t take long to bring us into an odd situation. A heart surgeon named Dr. Steve Murphy (Colin Farrell) is spending a lot of one-on-one time with a sixteen-year-old boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). All of their meetings have a curious air about them. We watch them have meals together at diners and cafeterias, or talking during riverside walks. In amongst all these quiet gatherings, Dr. Murphy gives Martin a very expensive watch as a gift.

Is Martin an illegitimate child? An illicit affair?

Before long, Dr. Murphy is even bringing Martin home to have dinner with his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and children Kim and Bob (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic). Nobody seems to fully know the nature of the relationship between the two men; all the same, nobody seems to care. Anna is welcoming, Bob is friendly, and Kim is smitten.

So what gives? Far more than anyone could ever expect.

Martin’s father was a patient of Dr. Murphy’s, and died on his operating table. Martin blames Dr. Murphy for his father’s death and demands restitution. He wants the doctor to kill a member of his own family. If he doesn’t, Martin says all three of them will die. It will be slow, and painful, and come with a point of no return.

The surgeon shares none of this information with his family.

Dr. Murphy seems to be placating the lad to stall for time – even spending an evening at Martin’s home alongside the boy’s mother (Alicia Silverstone). The plan seems to be to keep him happy and perhaps appeal to reason.

One morning though, Bob cannot move his legs. He gets checked out at the hospital and seems to have nothing wrong. As the family goes to leave, though, Bob’s legs give out again. Soon after, he loses all appetite. A short while later, the same symptoms befall Kim.

The clock, it would seem, is officially ticking…

 

Barry Keoghan in Sacred Deer

 

There’s a remoteness to THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER that makes the story so much more unsettling. The characters make declarations of admiration or desperation, but with a tone devoid of emotion. It’s as though life has lost its meaning. It’s difficult to understand the intent behind this. For The Murphy Family, it could come from them being so prosperous in life, that simple joys have lost their meaning. For Martin, it could mean that he is so fraught or numb from the loss of his father that life itself has lost meaning.

The film seems like a warning bell in that respect; that comforts should be enjoyed to the fullest and stir feelings of deep gratitude. Likewise, that pain must be fully embraced, lest it leave us losing our grasp on the peaks and valleys of life itself.

This is a haunting film – which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who’s ever seen DOGTOOTH or THE LOBSTER. It barely gets into the why, and doesn’t get into the how. It mirrors life in that way; sometimes truly terrible things are handed to people who have done little to deserve such pain. In these moments, “why” and “how” go unanswered.

All the more haunting is the way the pain comes from places we’d least expect. The violence of the story is set on tree-lined suburban crescents, and state of the art hospitals. These settings lull us into a sense of safety. Perish the thought. Instead, the movie leads the audience through beautiful rooms filled with ugly moments.

It places impossible options on the table before us, looks us in the eye, and calmly says “choose”.

In these moments, we become most desperate and most shameless. We will crawl until our hands and knees are bloodied. We will pimp out our very souls. We will betray everything we once believed we held dear if it just means we can hold on to it all a moment longer. All of these moments are in this movie – all of them are unsettling. Do we recoil because they are terrifying on their own, or because we see ourselves in them?

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER wants us to reflect on our sins. Most of us, at one point or another have sinned against the ones we care about most. In our thoughts or in our words; in what we have done or in what we have failed to do. The temptation is to bury them deep and hope they get forgotten by the time spring delivers new life. However, it’s seldom that simple. If get selfish for even a moment, we have it in us to affect someone’s life irrevocably. When that happens, a price should be paid. They only way to avoid paying a heavy cost is through forgiveness – both through those we’ve wronged and through ourselves.

That’s why it’s said that to forgive is divine. It is an act of grace to relieve a burden of guilt, since it often involves the forgiving to take the burden upon themselves.

In the absence of that though? Heaven help you.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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