One does not inherit fate, but is thrown into it. Inheritance implies a causality, albeit an at times obscure causality. Inheritance can be traced. It is matrilineal because it is not patrilineal; it is both what a lineage is (matri-) and is not (≠ patri-). As such it is a link to be followed either from the past or to the future. Fate is not caused. There is no trace. When Iphigenia claims at Aulis “in me lies the setting forth of ships” it is not an explanation of cause – e.g. I did this, will do this, and so this shall happen. Iphigenia’s sacrifice is already foretold by Kalkhas the seer. Kalkhas can be understood to instruct Agamemnon, rather than command him to or predict he would. But Kalkhas also affirms that “none of this would happen” if she was not sacrificed. Written by Euripedes far after the date of the Trojan War, Iphigenia’s failure to be sacrificed would in essence erase history. Not merely would the future that was Euripides’ present fail to come forth, but the past that was Agamenon’s present would never take hold. The sacrifice is fated because it has already happened. It was always already true. Hence why Iphigenia declares the beginning of the Trojan War was “in me.” Fate is not temporal-causal, but is the essence of her character.
This is the difference between The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Hereditary. Both are structurally Greek – Sacred Deer explicitly modeled after Iphigenia at Aulis and Hereditary affirmed as “very greek” in that the family has “absolutely no agency” by director Ari Aster. Family dramas in which a parent struggles against the (un)known and is swallowed by the inevitability of their failure. Yet Hereditary is built around ruptures. The death of the grandmother, the death of Charlie, the séance. In a rupture, there is a before and after, an outside and inside. Insomuch as logic requires rules, there is a logic that is hidden from the viewer. If Charlie was the “first successful host” for Paimon, where was he prior to Charlie? Does this mean there were prior attempts, and failures, for hosts? If Charlie’s death evacuated Paimon from this realm and required “Annie to take part in [conjuring]” him back, there is a fundamental wall between Paimon’s existence and our existence. He is an invading outsider, an ancient evil made present. Paimon is “in me” only as far as he is summoned and embodied. In essence Paimon must be invited, to use Aster’s word. It is a narrative fate, not a necessary fate. It is telling that when asked whether Annie could do anything to stop the events of the movie, Aster qualifies his no with “I don’t think so.”
Once inevitability is embodied it becomes narrative. There is cause. This may be internal, such as the inheritance of schizophrenia that subtexts the Grahams in Hereditary. While the movie keeps the logic fluctuating between psychological and supernatural factors until the end, there is a logic to be kept in flux. It may also be external. The author might note that it was inevitable. This is key to the distinction between narrative fate and necessary fate. Since Hereditary required the conclusion to be a product of either schizophrenic hallucinations or supernatural entities, fate would have always have been recognizably embodied. There is a face to defer to. But fate with a face is not fate. Deference is an act of referring to another, but in necessary fate there is no other. It’s for this reason that Iphigenia states “in me.” Once fate is embodied it becomes other than my self, is traceable, and it is precisely my self which fate is. It’s for this reason that the tragedy of Greek plays require ignored prophets: To encounter fate is to encounter what one always was, and the prophets are mirrors before which tragic heroes close their eyes yet run their hands over. Hereditary’s tragic heroine, Annie Graham, never encounters herself. She builds miniatures in imitation of control, then destroys them, merely externalizing her futility. The symbol of this narrativity is her possession at the end. She is deprived of her “in me” by Paimon, the outsourcing of fate.
Being directly inspired by Iphigenia at Aulis, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is able to capture this “in me” of necessary fate. The film’s suggestion for the sickness that slowly consumes the Murphy children, as given by the prophet figure of Barry, is Steven’s failure to save Martin’s father. Perhaps even speeding his death by performing heart surgery while drunk. This has no causal power for the pox and does not attempt causality. Martin states that “I don’t know if what’s happening is fair, but it’s the only thing that I can think of that’s close to justice.” But to be narrative fate this would require logic outside the film – a world of magic which Martin cast from, say – or for the Murphys pox to be tied to consequence. Yet Martin explicitly states this is “the closest” to justice, and so not quite justice, while emphasizing that the disease isn’t in his control. This truth is doubled over as the parents strugglingly fail to create a causal link through medicine. It’s triply emphasized by Barry Keoghan’s sharp yet vacant and absent rendition of Martin, as if he were in a constant state of reading. Between the ignored prophet-boy who acts present while being absent, the impossibility of physical explanation for the disease, and the total absence of unexplained magic structures in play, fate is never embodied. Is actively disembodied. Necessary Fate is within Steven, the one to respond to its “in me.”
Worth noting is the difference that Lanthimos and Flippou write into Iphigenia at Aulis. In the original tragedy, it is Iphigenia that discovers her “in me” and so acts in such a way as to create the world Euripides existed in. Not only does Sacred Deer not take place in a historical context, but the seeming Iphigenia of the film (Kim, the daughter) is denied her sacrifice. Instead, Steven blindfolds everyone and spins in a circle, firing once at random. He misses the first time. He repeats and fires again, killing the son.
The latter, perhaps, explains the former. Because this does not have the premise of historical fiction, the denial of the daughter, the misfire, and the death of the son function as representations of Steven’s “in me.” As he comes to understand it is his fatedness, he denies the daughter. As it is the father-son that haunts his fate, he kills his son. Most interestingly is the misfire. This mimics Agamemnon’s attempt to prevent the previously agreed to sacrifice at the opening of Iphigenia at Aulis of course, but it also brings forward Jesus’ imperfect initial healing of the blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26. When Jesus first spits on the blind man’s eyes and asks if he sees anything, the blind man only sees people as “trees walking around.” Only after the second gesture did the blind man see. In Sacred Deer’s iteration of this myth – both of which collate to an echo of Oedipus – Steven is both he who heals (follows his “in me”) and he who is blind(folded). It suggests that it is not enough to hear your “in me,” your necessary fate – Agamemnon preceded Iphigenia at Aulis having done so. One must follow it, embody one’s self, through reaffirmation; one is always embodying what one already is through such action. This is what some people might call going natural – being walking trees, or turning from a king’s daughter to a sacred deer.