Beating Heart Cinematography: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

By Fabian Broeker.

The camera almost constantly zooms and dollies into and away from its subjects in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

In a film that grapples with the cyclical nature of family bloodlines and the death (or, rather paralysis) and rebirth of biological matter, it is no coincidence that the film opens with a shot of an open chest, mid-surgery, in which we see a heart beating.

This shot, this rhythmic pumping – in and out, in and out – is mirrored throughout the film by way of the camera techniques employed by DoP Thimios Bakatakis. Zooms are often presented in long takes, slowly closing into a character’s face, or moving away from them, revealing new figures in the frame. The continuous use of this rhythmic, slow “pumping” creates an unsettling assortment of imagery, where, as Lanthimos himself has noted, the camera becomes “another entity”. The camera signals it is alive, operating at another level to the narrative. It establishes its own heart beat.

Dr. Steven Murphy is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who presides over a spotless household with his wife and two children. Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin, a fatherless teen who insinuates himself into the doctor’s life in gradually unsettling ways. Soon, the full scope of Martin’s intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter his domestic bliss forever.

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