Critical Exchangecore: Colin Farrell Reckons With “A Sacred Deer”

Filmcore Reviews returns this week with a fresh Critical Exchangecore hot off the presses! Director Yorgos Lanthimos (who helmed “The Lobster” last year)’s “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” tells the tale of how a successful surgeon, played by Colin Farrell and his family’s lives are turned upside down when a mistake from his past comes to haunt him.

Joining Armani Barron on this review, we have Chicago’s very own author/teacher/sandwich-maker/recent 28 year-old Adam Lawson. You can find his book, “Animals on Buses: An Almanac of Thoughts”, “>right here on Amazon!

[Editor’s note: One time, Colin Farrell stood behind me in line to get popcorn at the New Beverly Theater, where we both watched “The Changeling,” an excellent George C. Scott haunted house/ghost kid chiller]

*** SPOILER ALERT: SCROLL DOWN TO THE BOTTOM FOR OUR FINAL SCORE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET ****

Armani: Adam, I had no idea what this movie was about before you invited me to go see it. I’m surprised I hadn’t gotten served any ads since both Facebook and Google how much I love dark, winding dramas with a touch of mysticism. I have to say I really enjoyed it — as much as you can enjoy a movie about a father having to murder a member of his own family in the name of “justice.” I found all of the performances gripping, the cinematography was beautiful (and not just by meeting the composition standards set by today’s modern art house films), and though the film didn’t quite fill out its 2 hours runtime, there were no lulls that immediately stood out to me. 

To be honest, considering some of the other “pretentious arthouse” movies I’ve seen in my life, “TKOASD” was easily one of the most accessible. I mean it plays pretty straightforward. The father, Steven, was being a sloppy surgeon and ends up killing one of his patients. So, the son of the deceased patient, Martin, tells him the only way he can right this wrong is by sacrificing one of his own members of his family. It’s a direct interpretation of a Greek classic where King Agamemnon invoked the wrath of the gods for killing one of Artemis’s beloved deer. The price he had to pay was sacrificing his own daughter, Iphigenia.

I felt they did an awesome job modernizing it.  So I was pretty shocked when I saw reviews like this one, that basically just spat in the face of anyone who liked it. I mean I’m not some rich, retired French woman sitting in her LES apartment writing this… I live in an old Pilsen apartment with a ferret. It just bums me out that people see a film that asks them to think a little bit more and they write it off immediately. 

Adam, do you agree, or do you just think I’m drinking the Kool-Aid?

Adam: I think the knee jerk-reaction to any form of esoteric art, especially film, is to dismiss, because when we dismiss we save ourselves from the harder endeavor which is to absorb, meditate on and attempt to understand. That being said I think talky-art house movies walk a thin line between theme/message and insincere artifice. Some are literally images with such self-reference that its hardly a film and more than the dream of a stranger. (Confusing and boring.)

But I don’t think this was the case with TKOASD, I think at times it was too on the nose, even in its subterfuge. But that’s alright because it’s a movie starring the man who ruined “True Detective” and Nicole Kidman (whom I do not have a jab against, I think she’s great) so let’s sort of lower these expectations of this high art, discursive romp through the human psyche which I’ve found that I want every movie to be and enjoy it for what it is.

It was allegorical but I think what was dope about its allegorical reference is that you didn’t need any background knowledge to understand.

I saw that you were like, recoiling in dread during the murder scene? What about that had you feeling anxious?

Armani: Well, the scene you’re referring to is when Steven finally has to sacrifice a member of his family to prevent all of them from dying.  Initially, I betted you that he was going to choose to sacrifice the wife, Nicole Kidman because that seemed to be the most morally correct thing to do. She’s the one who frees Martin after they capture and torture him, and should be willing to bear the mistake her husband has made to save her children. However, her character immediately subverted that cliché by suggesting they just pick one of the kids instead because they can just “have another.” I mean I’m sure I guess that’s the most logical choice, but I can’t imagine my mother saying the same thing if she were in that situation. Their son, Bob, event petitions his father for mercy.

Honestly, the daughter is the only one who willingly offers herself up as the sacrifice. I think this may have to do with her sort of Virgin Mary subtext that has carried throughout the movie. In fact, it’s pointed out, awkwardly, that she has recently begun menstruating at the beginning of the film. So, by the time Steven finally decides to turn his decision into a literal Russian Roulette it definitely felt like it was anyone’s guess who he was going to end up picking and thus murdering. 

I certainly didn’t see Bob, their son, being the one chosen, but I could easily argue that it should have been any one of them. The one thing I can’t argue is Martin’s reasoning for cursing them in the first place. What is your take on Martin?

Adam: I think killing Bob was the safe route, after he’d lost the use of his legs, Steve is seen like tossing him on the floor in some ridicules Football Dad, play through the pain, methodology. Although the Russian Roulette scene was tense, I just don’t think any of the three options were that difficult to him. 

I think Martin was played damn near to perfection given the script. He’s introduced as under a dark veil of secrecy, I think we are led to believe he and Steven have some sort of sexual relation they are trying to keep hidden. (Martin has a fascination with the placement/amount of body hair Steven has. Which at first is unsettling because, like, yo, why are you showing this high school boy your body hair, what’s wrong with you homie. But shit Armani, it just got way more unsettling when I thought about how there was no sexual relations and that maybe even Steven was disgusted by the act but felt he needed to expose himself to Martin as to placate some curse. That’s fucking crazy ain’t it?) 

I’m of the opinion that the scariest things are left to imagination, some of the most haunting scenes in the movies and books I’ve absorbed are the scenes that come with minimal exposition and are hinted at in passing. So, I’m happy we don’t quite know what Martin is, whether it be demon, demi-god, some sort of Celtic shaman, or just master chemist, but I would have liked just a more hint explanation. 

How spoiler heavy/crass can we get on this thing because you had a really strong sense of relief about the hand job scene and I like to hear more about that?

Armani: I couldn’t agree more. Martin, played by Barry Keoghan, was really the MVP of the movie for me. From his deadpan delivery to just, for lack of a better word, unsettling gaze. I spent most of the movie sort of cycling between pity, disgust, empathy, and disgust again for the character. But ultimately Anna’s decision was more reflective of my attitude towards him at the end. They were in this mess because of Steven’s sins, not Martin’s punishment. I think we live in a point in society where people would rather cry “gas lighting” or “enablement” before owning up to their own flaws and actions. It’s easier to hate consequences if they happen to have a face. And that face happened to be Martin’s.

I mean we already know that Steven has some pretty weird kinks like making his wife pretend to be unconscious, or maybe even dead before they have sex. An act that young Kim imitates when she tries to seduce Martin. So, it was really easy early on to lean towards him having inappropriate sexual contact with Martin. This was further exacerbated by the fact that he lies about her and Martin’s relationship. Like why even say that he goes to school with Kim if you can just say that he is the son of a friend who passed? You can argue that he already felt like a teenager hanging out with an older man is weird. But isn’t it weirder to lie about how they know each other?

Circling back to that handy scene between Anna and Steven’s friend and colleague Dr. Matthew. I thought it was pretty dumb of him to leverage this information for a hand job from Anna. I mean how hard was it to just say “yeah your husband is a sloppy surgeon” without needing some gross sexual favor. If anything, her emasculating glare the whole time just made him more pathetic. Anna refused to allow herself to be a victim in this scenario and definitely placated his request with as much indifference as one can when forced to give someone a hand job under an overpass in your husband’s Range Rover. Wait, is this an episode of Sex and The City? One thing I wanted to point out is that it honestly could have been either Dr. Matthew or Steven’s fault that Martin’s father died. However, Martin had already made up his mind to blame Steven. Besides, at the beginning, Dr. Matthew and Martin had the same watch. So maybe this insinuated that Matthew had gotten a pass from our pseudo demi-god Martin.

****SPOILER FREE ZONE BELOW****

Armani: Honestly, I could go on for eons about the symbolism in “TKOASD” and how much I loved Alicia Silverstone in her role as Martin’s mother, but instead, I’m going to offer my final score of this movie. A *** out of **** stars. Any final thoughts? What do you give it?

Adam: “Handy in your husband’s Range Rover” is a good title for a “Real Housewives” episode. I thought it was highly stylized, very pretty movie that maybe you could say was about amends and sacrifice and family. I can’t stop thinking about Kim singing by the tree, smoking one of Martin’s cigarettes. I don’t know if it meant anything, I’m even sure why I liked it so much, she wasn’t a particularly good singer and it wasn’t a particularly good song, but I’m a romantic, and trees have ancient, earthy, sexy aesthetic, so for that shot alone it’s a *** out of **** stars for me, too.

I came into the experience maybe not prepped for a Lanthimos, or rather anything from A24. I’d stopped by a staff social — and, as you mentioned I’m a teacher and no other profession (save for maybe a 1960s ad man or maybe a bounty hunter) drinks like a teacher. Plus, I ate chicken wings with heavy ranch so post-meal fatigue was setting in during the top of the third act, all those conditions factored in, I still managed to take in certain moments and find lessons in them, the most important of which is just because you ignore something doesn’t make it go away. 

And that love conquers all? Even extra-marital handys and filicide.

Thanks for this, it was jazzy.

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