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Film / The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a 2017 Psychological Thriller directed by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman.

Dr. Steven Murphy (Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon with a wife (Kidman) and two children that share an idyllic suburban life. Eventually, a strange, fatherless teenage boy named Martin begins getting more and more involved in the Murphys' lives with a personal grudge and mysterious powers that, combining with a resurfaced tragedy, will affect the family irreversibly.


This film contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Being forced to kill one of your children or your spouse, or your whole family dies.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Martin seems to be on the autism spectrum: he speaks in a flat, unchanging voice, occasionally repeats certain words, expresses how he's feeling with no emotion whatsoever and is exceptionally socially awkward. And he manages to stick out for this in a movie where everyone talks with a rather flat and emotionless affect.
  • The Alcoholic: Steven apparently had a drinking problem that led to him accidentally killing one of his patients, although he denies being at fault.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In the end, Martin gets his way; despite his efforts to evade Martin's prophecy, "balance" is restored by Steven killing one of his children (Bob).
  • Best Served Cold: Martin shows no obvious signs of anger toward Steven. On the contrary, he spends a lot of time earnestly trying to develop a relationship with him. Even when describing his plans for revenge, he explains them without any sign of anger or relish and states flatly that they are the only thing he could think of to balance the scales of justice.
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  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Matthew is apparently Steven's best friend and coworker, but he tried to have an affair with Anna behind Steven's back and later completely blames Steven for the death of Martin's father the exact same way Steven blamed him while selling that information to Anna for a handjob.
  • Book-Ends: The opening and closing sequences are both soundtracked by haunting classical music.
  • Bound and Gagged: At the end, Steven opts to kill a member of the family to restore balance. Since he can't consciously go through with it, part of his process is duct-taping everyone's bodies and mouths.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: As he grows increasingly desperate for the safety of his family, Steven ends up kidnapping Martin, tying him to a chair in his basement, and brutally beating him for answers. It doesn't boot; not only is Martin completely unaffected by the abuse, but Anna ends up freeing him.
  • Creepy Child: Martin is this in spades. Everything he does exudes a creepy, unnatural aura.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Steven mentions that he masturbated a lot at Bob's age and was worried that he wasn't ejaculating a normal amount, so to check, he once went to his drunk, sleeping father and gave him a handjob to see how much he would ejaculate to compare. Yuck.
  • Daylight Horror: Many tense, frightening moments happen in broad daylight. It helps to emphasize the fact that the family is never safe from Martin's power.
  • Downer Ending: Steven ultimately opts to fulfill the prophecy and allow Martin to get his way by killing Bob.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: The first indication we get that Steven is not the best guy is when he role plays "general anesthesia" with Anna, in which he has sex with her while she pretends that she is sedated. note 
  • Fan Disservice: The anesthesiologist demands a handjob from Anna as payment for revealing that Dr. Murphy was drinking on the day of Barry's father's death.
    • Anna and Steven's roleplaying, in which she pretends to be a patient under anesthesia.
  • Foreshadowing: A shot panning in towards Bob, just as he begins to get sick, displays a photo of a deer above his head, foreshadowing the ending of the film.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: At first it appears that Steven is facing Disproportionate Retribution for an innocent mistake committed years ago, and Martin acknowledges that this recourse is not fair, but the reveal that Steven was drunk while operating on Martin's father lessens the sympathy viewers may feel for him. Steven's actions later in the film also evoke some questionable morality, such as kidnapping a teenager and beating him up in his basement.
  • Hope Spot: After Bob's legs lose feeling for the first time, he regains the ability to walk and the adults assume he was lying. Within minutes of leaving, however, he loses the ability to move yet again.
  • If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: Kim claims Bob's MP3 player in case he dies.
  • Karma Houdini: Martin gets away with his plan of revenge on Steven, Steven gets away with killing Bob, and Matthew gets away with whatever his role was in the death of Martin's father as well as getting a handjob out of the bargain.
  • Kill the Cutie: Poor, sweet Bob is the one to get killed off.
  • Magical Realism: Aside from at the start when Steven refuses to believe that Bob (and by extension Kim and Anna) is cursed mostly out of denial of the situation they are in, nobody really questions whether Martin has really cursed the family. They mostly just accept it in relative stride and begin trying to influence Steven's decision on who has to die.
  • Mama Bear: Zig-zagged in a frightening fashion. Anna does rail against the doctors who try to dismiss her children's illnesses and insists that they come home rather than stay in the hospital. However, she never once considers sacrificing herself to break the curse, even telling Steven that choosing one of the children is a better option because they can always have another.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Anna point-blank asks Martin why she and her children, who are innocent, have to suffer for her husband's mistake. Martin acknowledges that the choice isn't fair, but claims Revenge by Proxy is the only thing he can think of that's close to justice.
  • Never My Fault: Steven claims that surgeons can never kill their patients, only an anesthesiologist can. Meanwhile, the anesthesiologist tells Anna the opposite. Their wording is almost exactly the same even.
  • Never Trust a Title: For those who are familiar with Greek mythology. The Literary Allusion Title refers to the myth of Agamemnon having to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to appease an angered god. During the movie, Kim's principle mentions that Kim wrote an A+ essay on Iphigenia. All this seems to foreshadow that she will be the one that Steven sacrifices at the end. She isn't. Poor Bob is the one who is ultimately killed, though he was chosen through random chance.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Steven realizes Martin is telling the truth about his family being subjected to a four-step process of slow deathnote  when Bob refuses his favorite donut, thus indicating the second stage.
  • Parental Favoritism: Done terrifyingly once Kim and Bob return home. They have a lengthy conversation that, on the surface, might be any sibling argument over who is the favorite...except in this case, they're making cases about why Steven will choose the other for the sacrifice.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Averted with Martin, who openly discusses his mother's sexual attributes with Steven.
  • Red Herring Twist: The rules of the game and the minor but frequent background presence of the family dog may lead viewers to suspect that it would count as a family member that could be killed to break the dilemma. Maybe it could have, but unfortunately, this isn't that kind of movie.
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's never clear how or even whether Martin is affecting the children. The doctors are unable to find anything wrong with them. Steven frequently accuses them of faking it. Martin tells Steven that everyone in his family will eventually suffer the same afflictions, but even as Bob supposedly approaches death, neither Steven nor Anna experience any of his promised symptoms.
  • Rule of Three: When Steven uses the Spin the Bottle technique to select a family member for the sacrifice, he succeeds on the third trial.
  • Sadistic Choice: Martin tells Steven that he must choose one of his family members to die.
  • Signature Style: Much like The Lobster and Dogtooth, every character speaks in a precise and somewhat robotic fashion, often making blunt and off-topic remarks that would be shocking in our own society but which go without comment in the film.
  • Silent Credits: The end credits roll over ambient sounds.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Bob dies for Steven's drunken mistake.
  • Shout-Out: The title refers to the myth of Agamemnon and Iphigenia. Kim's teacher mentions that she wrote an essay about Iphigenia and read it aloud to the class.
  • Tears of Blood: Martin informs Steven that the third phase of the mysterious illness is that his family members will start bleeding from their eyes; death will follow a few hours later. Dr. Murphy is eventually forced to choose after Bob starts bleeding from his eyes.
  • Teeth Flying: In the Torture Cellar, Martin spits out a tooth after getting punched in the face by Steven.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: Steven abducts Martin and attempts to torture him into ending the curse, but it doesn't work.
  • Villainous BSoD: Martin mentions that after his father's death, he was told that he eats spaghetti exactly like him. When he learned that everyone eats spaghetti the same way, he was extremely upset, even more so than when his father actually died.

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