Emmy Brown reviews the new psychological thriller that’s got everyone talking…
The Killing of a Sacred Deer: An uncomfortable roller coaster that manipulates food into the abject.
With a current domestic gross of nearly a million dollars, director Yorgos Lanthimo’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer is certainly making waves within the ocean that is the independent film scene. His sixth feature film doesn’t fail to continue Lanthimo’s standout style of direct, almost uncomfortable dialogue, a powerful score and a narrative that keeps you second-guessing throughout. With that, the film centres on Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teenager who becomes infatuated with Steven (Collin Farrell), the surgeon who operated on his late father. However, we soon discover that Martin’s obsession is not one of admiration or lust, but of revenge; ‘my father died on your operating table and now you must pay the price.’
Strands of sodden pasta twirl ungraciously around a fork, it’s metallic edges scraping against the porcelain that bears the weight of the dishevelled mass. An extreme close up uncomfortably fixates on the spaghetti, and whilst the scraping continues, it only serves to juxtapose against a grimace inducing squelching from the food. All the while, Martin perches in his underwear, shovelling mouthfuls of the cold slop into his mouth. He recalls to Steven’s wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) how his late father ate spaghetti, marvelling at his technique until one day realising that that’s how everybody eats spaghetti. One would think from this imagery that Martin is merely an awkward, grieving teen that eats spaghetti for breakfast – which is true; however placed within Lanthimo’s world he’s also the epicentre of comeuppance, manipulation and death. More specifically, whilst Martin continues to stuff his face, Anna and Steven’s children are dying at the hands of this young man. And the primary symptom of the mysterious, terminal illness in which Martin has cast upon these children? The inability to eat.
Martin perches in his underwear, shovelling mouthfuls of the cold slop into his mouth.
In Julia Kristeva’s text Powers of Horror, she notes “food loathing is perhaps the most elementary and archaic form of abjection”. From a young age we decide which food repulses and excites us, what makes us wretch, gag and feel queasy. What strikes so profoundly within this scene is Martin’s overtly calm, almost inappropriate, manner of eating spaghetti whilst in front of a suffering mother, aware that her children cannot eat and knowing entirely that it was his own-doing. With this imagery, food becomes linked with the abject, as not only is the spaghetti unappealing in appearance and sound – manifesting into Kristeva’s notion of “food loathing” – it symbolically opposes everything food traditionally connotes: nourishment, health, and revival. One would inevitably connect food with death, a notion in which Kristeva discusses as “…the utmost of abjection” and thus solidifying Martin’s revolting consumption whilst in the context of mortality as truly abject.
Yorgos Lanthimo’s imagery of food within The Killing of a Sacred Deer is incredibly powerful. The ability to transform an everyday necessity of life, something that is so familiar to us from the day we are born, into a semiotic for abjection, fragility and death creates for an overwhelmingly uncomfortable, almost nauseating, imagery that only emphasises further the contorted reality that is Martin’s world.