A couple of weeks ago I posted my review of the odd, off-putting yet overall excellent film THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER. At the time of my viewing the movie, and my subsequent reviewing of it, I had no idea what the title meant, as there were no deer in the movie. I have since done a little research and I can now answer that question. Allow me to share my newfound knowledge with you.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is loosely based on the play IPHIGENIA IN AULIS by Euripides. We knew that already. Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon, who sacrificed her to the goddess Artemis to win the latter’s support for his cause at the outset of the Trojan War. This act of bloodshed led to a veritable geyser of the red stuff. According to legend (and in subsequent dramatic works) Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra (or by her lover, at her instructions), because of what he did to their daughter Iphigenia. The couple’s son, Orestes, and daughter, Electra, then murder their mom because she had killed their pop. This earns Orestes the fury of the Furies. It was a big ol’ mess.
The extant version of the play ends with the revelation that Iphigenia was not killed but had rather been replaced on the altar with a deer, shades of the story of Abraham and his almost-sacrifice of his son Isaac, wherein Isaac was replaced by a ram. (There’s where the whole “deer” thing comes in.) It is believed by scholars, however, that this happy ending was not the ending originally written by Euripides. In other words, some later writer did some creative editing. Greek Tragedies, however, don’t really work when you try to give them happy endings.