The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a 2017 Psychological Thriller, Drama, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. The film’s leading cast includes Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, and Alicia Silverstone in a cameo. The plot is centered on a teenager coping with his dad’s tragic death. But soon, we are witness to a bizarre turn of events that builds up to an agonizing end. If you’ve liked the director’s earlier works like Dogtooth and The Lobster, you’ll like this movie. If you’ve watched the movie, you’re probably wondering what the heck was going on in the film, and what did it all mean in the end. We’re going to talk about just that. Here’s a detailed plot analysis and the ending of the film The Killing Of A Sacred Deer explained; spoilers ahead.
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The Killing Of A Sacred Deer: Movie Title Explained
The Sacred Deer is a reference to Iphigenia, who is represented by a deer in Greek mythology. She is to be sacrificed to appease the goddess Artemis, and as payment. I won’t get into this as it is based very loosely on this. However, you can read all about it – here.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer: Plot Explained
Murphy, a successful surgeon, lives a visually happy life with his wife, Anna, and two kids, Kim and Bob. I say visually happy because everything about them is very mechanical, the way they talk, go about their lives, their sex, everything seems artificial. But that is just the nature of the world in this film. The film opens with one such bland conversation between Murphy and his anesthetist friend about a watch.
What was Murphy’s mistake in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer?
Murphy got drunk just before an operation and committed an error during surgery, leading to his patient’s (Martin’s dad’s) death. You know this is the truth because you see him covering up details about how Martin’s dad died to his wife. Murphy lies to her, saying he died in a car accident and was killed instantly. He is also unremorseful about it and blames it on the anesthetist.
Murphy feels sorry for Martin and, as a result, meets and spends time with him. Meet-ups start off occasionally but soon become a frequent event. Murphy decides to invite Martin home to meet the family. I feel he does this hoping that a personal connection with his family would remove any grudges that Martin has.
Murphy’s adolescent daughter takes an instant liking to Martin. Soon they hit it off. Martin returns the favour by having Murphy visit his home. Martin’s mother comes on to Murphy, so he leaves. We’ll talk more about Martin’s mother in a bit. Martin pursues to meet Murphy, who avoids him.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer Sickness Explained
One day, Bob wakes up and can’t feel his legs. The look Murphy has in his eyes is not of just fear, but of recognition, as though he already knew this was going to happen. It appears Martin has previously mentioned that this is going to take place. At the hospital, where Bob is admitted, Martin meets Murphy for a short moment and says this.
That critical moment we both knew would come someday, that time is now. Just as you killed a member of my family, now you gotta kill a member of your family to balance things out, understand? I can’t tell you who to kill, of course, that’s for you to decide. But, if you don’t do it, they will all get sick and die. Bob will die. Kim will die. Your wife will die. One: paralysis of the limbs. Two: refusal of food to the point of starvation. Three: bleeding from the eyes. Four: death. Don’t worry, you won’t get sick. You’ve just gotta stay calm, that’s all.
This indeed is the summary of the film’s rules. The universe automatically balances out one wrong deed with another. Martin says these lines as though he’s only reminding Murphy about them, and that Murphy should snap out of his state of denial. In short, the film world has a mechanism of punishment for one’s wrongs, and it’s not being executed by Martin.
What’s up with Murphy and Martin’s mother?
Martin and his mother have both assumed that Murphy will kill his wife to save his children. Even to the viewers, this looks like an apparent turn of events. Martin’s mother is attracted to Murphy. I believe Martin and his mother hope that Murphy will marry her after Anna is dead and gone. This is why the two of them make it very clear to Murphy about this through words and actions. Martin later tells Anna that Murphy has always flirted with his mother. Now, this appears to be a teenager’s exaggeration rather than the truth. While Kim likes Martin, and he agrees she’s beautiful, he doesn’t cross any lines with her as he’s primarily looking out for his mother.
Kim is next
Kim’s legs are the next to go, and she and her brother both lose their will to eat. Going by the behaviour of Kim, we can say that she and Martin have been talking about her father’s mistake. She is convinced that one person from her family has to pay the price for his blunder. Her infatuation with Martin causes her to emotionally distance herself from her family. Kim seems to comprehend the situation well and tells Anna that she too won’t be able to move her legs soon.
How does Kim walk momentarily?
One day at the hospital, Martin in on the phone with Kim, who suddenly gains movement in her legs to go to the window. But soon after, they become paralyzed again. We’re witness to a film universe and its internal rules. If you remember, even Bob initially gains movement in his feet and eventually loses it again. This is how it happens to Kim. I don’t believe Martin is orchestrating this, but instead, he just simply understands what’s happening. Because of him, Kim does too, and that explains her calmness about it.
With no further treatment for Kim and Bob, they are taken back home. Murphy kidnaps Martin and beats him silly, demanding that he revert the situation. We see clearly that Murphy is now over his denial and has opted to persuade Martin. But it doesn’t help. Anna tries to ask Martin nicely, that doesn’t work either. Kim offers that he run away with her, and it doesn’t move him one bit.
Martin explains with the example of biting Murphy. He doesn’t bash his teeth in but bites his own arm. Even though his teeth were the one to wrong, it was his hands that had to pay the price though they were innocent. A hand for a hand. Martin goes on to explain that apologies were like touching an open wound, it would only make it worse.
Reaction to the Truth
Anna offers Murphy’s colleague a sexual favour to find out the truth behind Martin’s father and that Murphy was drunk that day. This leads to an unbelievable turn of events. Knowing now that Murphy has to kill one of Anna, Kim, or Bob to save the rest, everyone tries their best to not be the one to die. It’s just bizarre, let’s look at this one person at a time.
Why didn’t Dr. Murphy just kill himself and end it?
Murphy could sacrifice himself and end this as blood for blood, but he doesn’t even consider that. On the other hand, he goes to his children’s school and meets the principal to find out which child is “better”. He’s trying to logically calculate each kid’s value.
Anna puts herself up ahead of her children
Any mother would typically offer herself as a sacrifice to save her children. But not Anna, she, in fact, suggests the opposite. She tells Murphy that it would be the logical thing to kill one of their kids because they could have another child. Later, she also tries to seduce him to remind him that the two can continue to be happy together even if one of the kids died.
Kim wants to run away with Martin
Kim goes up to Martin when in the basement to convince him to get her to walk so that they could run away together. She’s already decided that it’s her brother, Bob, who is going to die. She even mentions this to Bob, asking him for his MP3 player after he’s dead. Soon she realizes that it’s not in Martin’s hands, and Murphy is the one to decide. She escapes the house in desperation. When Murphy and Anna find her an bring her back, we can see her go out of character and become exceedingly loving towards Murphy, even offering herself as a sacrifice in a cunning manner. She’s trying her best to not get picked for death.
Bob is a kid and is doing his best to stay alive
Bob decides to cut his hair to appease his dad. He apologizes as earnestly as possible and says how he should have listened to his father about the haircut. After that, Bob crawls on to go water the plants. He even says he would like to become a cardiologist like his father. Bob unleashes all he can to ensure he’s not picked to die.
In all, the characters in this film are devoid of normal human emotion and are more calculative in nature. This is exactly like how the film’s universe is, it is calculative – an eye for an eye.
Does Murphy kill Bob?
Yes. Murphy ties up his kids and Anna in three different chairs and blinds himself. He spins around enough to lose orientation and fires his gun, emulating a human Russian roulette. While the first two bullets hit no one, the third one fires at Bob and kills him.
The equation is now balanced. The ending scene shows Murphy, Anna and Kim come in and eat an all American burger with fries and ketchup. Martin shows up and eyes them. They each give him a look of acknowledgment. Kim still seems to be infatuated with him. They don’t speak a word, and they leave as Martin watches on.
Killing Of A Sacred Deer Explained By The Director
Take a look at this video that shows the director, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Colin Farrell discuss the film and its meaning:
Based on this video, one thing is apparent. The film presents itself in a world where karma plays out automatically. As though there is an external observer that balances the wrong deeds with punishments. So right off the bat, I’m going to take a stance that Martin is not someone with superpowers. He’s not from the occult trying to avenge his father’s death. Had that been the case, he might have protected his father from dying in the first place, or avenged him much sooner. And yes, there is that theory of hypnotism, I’ll get to that in a bit.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer: Movie Meaning
You’ll better understand this film if you’ve seen the director, Yorgos Lanthimos’s, previous films. What he loves doing is creating a movie world with its own rules. He doesn’t strive for realism because he doesn’t believe it exists in cinema, after all, the film world is manufactured and be experimented with. Lobster is a good example where the rules of our real lives don’t apply to the movie.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is no different. The characters live in an altered world where karma is part of their existence. The characters lacking life is also a function of the world they live in. Considering the camera angles mentioned in the film, it appears that all the characters are being watched by omnipresent gods. The camera is presented to be another entity that sometimes hovers above, or looks on creepily from below. There is a voyeuristic element to the film, and the consequences of people’s actions are governed by the universe. Even at Martin’s place, the movie they watch is Groundhog Day, which also is a film that has its own obscured reality.
Who or What is Martin? Does Martin have powers?
As the director explains, Martin is a teenager who is naive, nice, awkward, and at the same time, evil and menacing. His origin is purposely not explained. He knows very well that Murphy’s family will all become paralyzed one by one and then die if Murphy doesn’t pay for his mistake with blood. An eye for an eye is the justice that prevails in the universe of this film. Murphy knows this as well as Martin, but the former is in denial. I wouldn’t call Martin a normal kid though, he’s undoubtedly got his mental issues. After all, he bites his own flesh clean off just to demonstrate the metaphor, and doesn’t flinch. The director clearly did not intend for Martin to be a super-being. He’s just a boy who’s been wronged, and the universe is taking corrective action.
Martin’s Hypnotism? No.
There is a theory that Martin is a master hypnotist, and the loss of leg control and appetite is a result of that. I don’t like this theory because it doesn’t explain why the family members behave selfishly, trying to somehow save themselves. This is the very definition of the nature of the characters in the film. Martin is not really orchestrating their conversations and behavior. This theory is too uni-dimensional and takes away the otherwise complex and bizarre universe that the director has created.
Where are the cops in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer?
A kid has been kidnapped for days and beat up real bad. Another has gone missing. Wouldn’t this be enough for someone to complain, for the cops to snoop around? I initially felt I had a fantastic breakthrough and thought perhaps this film world didn’t need cops because there was a godly justice system in place. There would be no need for cops or prison if what goes around comes around, people would just behave. But sadly, this is not the case because Murphy threatens Martin that he’d die in prison. Anna advises avoiding the police when Murphy talks of precautionary measures. It’s just that situation is heavily guarded, and the cops are never alerted about it.
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer: Ending Scene Explained?
The ending scene is set a few days after Bob’s death. Martin’s wounds have healed a bit; perhaps a week has passed. This is the same diner that Martin and Murphy used to meet in. I’m going to assume that the diner is a favourite of Murphy’s, and that’s the reason he used to meet Martin here. Days after the horrific event of killing [and probably covering up the murder of] Bob, the family is trying to resume a normal-ish life. Martin happens to stop by. Anna and Murphy are unable to continue eating, they are unable to fully come to terms with what has transpired. Kim, however, loads her fries with ketchup and looks on at Martin as she eats them, just the way he likes it. Her character seems most wicked; recollect her contrived speech to Murphy about her love for him. She still seems to have plans to pick up where she left off with Martin. The three of them discard their meals and leave as Martin watches on.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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