Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom/Ireland/USA, 2017. Element Pictures, A24, Film4. Screenplay by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou. Cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis. Produced by Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrew Lowe. Music by Sarah Giles, Nick Payne. Production Design by Jade Healy. Costume Design by Nancy Steiner. Film Editing by Yorgos Mavropsaridis. Cannes Film Festival 2017. Independent Spirit Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Colin Farrell plays a cardiac surgeon whose successful career is complemented by a large, beautiful home that he shares with his ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman) and their young, healthy children. The oddity in his existence is a young man who visits him at the hospital where he practices, a verbal and unstable teenager (Barry Keoghan, who is electrifying) whose connection to Farrell is not immediately known to us. When we learn what these two have in common, that Farrell is linked to a tragedy of Keoghan’s past, we then have the challenge that also explains the title’s allusion to Euripides: Keoghan feels that the surgeon took something from him, and in order for Farrell’s family to survive a mysterious curse that has befallen them he will have to make a choice involving a dark and dire sacrifice. Just when you think director Yorgos Lanthimos’ sense of humour can’t get darker or more disrespectful, he comes up with another story set in that slightly heightened reality that he has mastered over the course of his career in which the situations become increasingly, delightfully, ridiculous. Farrell, who achieved the subtle comic tone of The Lobster with such impressive ease, continues to serve Lanthimos’ flavour of misanthropic fun with the same skill, while Kidman matches him in an uncanny performance that puts across incredulity and desperation with little visible effort. The tale of Iphigenia, from which this one gets its theme, is a story of the inability to compromise, characters who cannot back down from what they want and are forced to lose something essential as a result: here we have a man who refuses to believe that he has done anything wrong, a woman who will make whatever hard choice she has to to keep her life moving forward, and a young man whose sense of righting wrong is not balanced by any self-awareness (actually just the way he eats spaghetti is an exercise in brutal commitment). Lanthimos has made a movie for a world in which online angry-mob-style justice and Twitter-shaming demonstrates our refusal to understand more than one’s own point of view, and uses classical allusion to tell us that this is nothing new even if it now feels that we have reached new extremes of perpetual conflict: our punishment as an audience is in not being given the movie we want but the one we all deserve. Some graphic imagery will be too much for some audience members, but the whole thing is directed with such confidence (and kudos to Thimios Bakatakis for some Kubrickian-level cinematographic beauty) that you will have a hard time tearing your eyes away even from the images that are hard to look at. Alicia Silverstone appears in a fantastic supporting performance.