What I Learned Reading KILLING OF A SACRED DEER Screenplay

In Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, Agamemnon accidentally killed a sacred deer that belonged to Artemis, and she requires blood in return.

Lanthimos’ story is actually inspired by this Euripides’ tragedy. The heart surgeon Steven accidentally killed Martin’s father on the operating table, and Martin demands the sacrifice of one of Steven’s loved ones as compensation. And he reveals that, if Steven doesn’t kill one of his family members, they will all die, first by losing their ability to walk, then by refusing to eat, and then, finally, by bleeding from their eyeballs.

So, how does the script execute this plot? It’s pretty straight-forward also. First, thirty or so pages, we see Steven’s routine, his daily life, his family. When he gives the conference talk, he makes a joke to break the ice at the exact moment it needs to happen. Not just the fun of it, he makes the joke because he needs to make it to break the ice when he gives a talk to an audience.

The script starts with a surgical procedure and continues almost as if we never get out of that procedure. Steven and his family live the life very methodical way. It’s so methodical that it gives the scenes and overall atmosphere an eerie aspect. Everything in their life is the way it supposed to be. We get used to it page after page, and when he sees the boy (Martin), we immediately sense that something is out of order. We start asking questions. Why is he seeing him? Who is he? What’s their relationship? It just draws all the attention to the kid.

We expect something to go wrong, or at least something bad to happen at some point. And because Steven’s life is so in order, we expect the incident to come from or something to do with the kid, Martin.

And shit starts to go down around page thirty, Martin comes to dinner at Steven’s house and then, he invites Steven to his house to meet his mother. We still don’t know about Martin’s dead father at this point. The script starts giving us hints about it. First, Martin mentions his father to Steven. Then, his mother mentions about her visits to the hospital to see her husband. And finally, Martin reveals that Steven ‘killed’ his father before laying out his evil plan.

And after this point, script follows Martin’s plan. First children start losing their ability to walk, then they refuse to eat, and then, finally, their eyeballs start to bleed. Steven and his wife, Anna fight it but it’s no use.

It’s how Lanthimos changes the original tragedy that elevates Sacred Deer to the level of a masterpiece. No such reprieve awaits Steven and his family like Iphigenia’s.

Around page seventy, in the scene where Anna asks Steven to put an end to all of it, he lashes out saying he knows how to stop this.

Do something to put an end to all this, that’s what. That’s what I want. Can you do that? You do realise Steven that we’ve ended up in this situation because of you?
So what do you suggest? Tell me. Oh, wait, I know, I’ve got it. There is a way that we can put a stop to all this. All we need to do is find the tooth of a baby
crocodile, the blood of a pigeon, and the pubes of a virgin and then we just have to burn them all before sunset. Let me see, do we have any spare teeth lying around?
Steven starts opening cupboards and flinging packets of food
onto the floor.

Teeth, pubes, nope, nothing in here, or here. Nothing in this box
either. Where are they? I was sure they were here somewhere. I put
them here myself. Who keeps moving things around? Unbelievable. I
don’t supposed you’ve got any pubes I could have, by any chance? Oh I
forgot, you don’t have any left. We don’t have any of the things we
need. Well, that’s a shame. I guess there’s nothing I can do. Steven stalks out of the room.

Steven’s children and wife start to die and there’s nothing he can do about it. This scene shows us that he knows it.

This is where this particular screenplay converts expectations. Nine times out of ten, the protagonist finds a way to get out of this ‘impossible to get out’ situation. But not in this story, not in a Yorgos Lanthimos movie.

We sit there, and watch Steven (Colin Farrell) blindfold himself and turn with a rifle in his hand. He ends up killing his own son. That’s a very powerful scene. In the end, sacrifice has been made and they continue their life as if nothing happened.

As I watch this film the first time, I felt the eerie dread in my veins and didn’t find a chance to dissect any of the storytelling aspects of the story. But reading the screenplay laid out everything in front of me perfectly clear. The plot, the structure, the story, the scenes, everything came in order like Steven’s methodical ways. Everything is pretty straight-forward for an ‘indie’ and different movie like this. I wasn’t expecting it. I recommend reading it.

Killing of A Sacred Deer Screenplay [PDF] by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filipou — for educational and research purposes only.