I’m mainly writing this because I can’t figure out if I like Yorgos Lanthimos’s films and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this sentiment. Some think he’s pretentious, some think he’s a visionary and a genius, some think he’s downright crooked and disturbed — and some are probably in the middle like me.
“Dogtooth” (2009), “The Lobster” (2015) and the newly released “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” all follow a similar, authentically and distinguishably Lanthimosian aesthetic of a bizarre dystopia. “Dogtooth,” a film in the director’s native Greek, traces a controlling father who locks his children on their house grounds and brainwashes them. “The Lobster” gives its characters 45 days to find a mate and, if they do not succeed, they are turned into the animals of their choice — a bleak survival of the fittest. And in his latest film, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” a surgeon is forced to choose the fate of his children’s lives through the psychological mind control of the son of a patient who died during his operation. It’s the ultimate vendetta.
Lanthimos’s directorial vision and overall view of the world is undeniably twisted and dark. He attempts to critique the complex themes that we face as humans: the conditioning one’s upbringing forces on the individual, the competition to find a compatible partner and procreate and the hunt for revenge. In a way, his stories trace, thematically, the stories of his predecessors of the Ancient Greek classics, as they all explore the primal nature of humans. The title of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” itself is even based on the Greek myth of Iphigenia who is sacrificed by her father, Agamemnon, who killed a sacred deer and then must therefore murder his daughter for retribution from the gods. An ode to his roots, perhaps, his vision is evidently imbued with an influence from an iconic historical period when the instincts of violence and vengeance were esteemed.
Probably what has made Lanthimos such a provocative director is his reliance on visceral elements and reactions that many claim to be outrageous and disturbing. His movies are weird; they don’t quite fit into one specific genre and the frequent violence he features can at times seem arbitrary. He relies on disorienting the audience as a device to reveal the greater truths about his films, like in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” when the characters speak in a robotic, monotone speech that distances them from reality or when, in “Dogtooth,” the brainwashed kids are taught misnomers by their parents (like the word “telephone” to replace the word “salt”) to comment on how truth and knowledge are subjective and how one’s environment determines everything. This deliberate disorientation enters the audience into an uncomfortable position which can be overwhelming and unsettling, which is likely his intention.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” received the best screenplay award at Cannes. Though, like all of his films, critics and fans alike are bound to have polarizing views on the film. Some detest his work and some thrive off seeing what he’s going to release next, but despite this divide, his films are damn entertaining and worth a view.