[Movie] Lamb (2021) - Iceland | Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson
Lamb, a 2021 Icelandic film directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson, revolves around María (played by Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), a childless couple living on an isolated Icelandic farm. Their lives take a surreal turn when a miraculous event leads to the birth of a half-human, half-lamb creature.
I wanted to watch this the moment I saw a trailer. It's a wonderful example of how minimalism can create atmosphere and tension. The core themes of Lamb are love, parenthood and the boundaries of nature, and while there are fantasy elements, it's the complex human relationships that give this film its hook.
Noomi Rapace is particularly brilliant here, conveying complex emotions with minimal dialogue. The lives of María and Ingvar appear tranquil at first, as they tend to their sheep herd and farm, sharing duties and dinner, but you start to get the impression that perhaps they are not fulfilled as they carry out their day to day chores with an almost sleepwalking momentum. I got the impression that they might have, at some point, tried to have a family, but couldn't (this is not overtly stated, but later you can glean it from their behaviour toward Ada), and now they have accepted their solitary life as a couple, surrounding themselves with animals and work instead.
Which leads me to the miracle. We are put into the view of a creature stalking into the sheep barn one night, and later we see a ewe collapse, breathing heavily. From there we are shown María and Ingvar during lambing, but one lamb is born that stops them short. We never see what is given birth to at this point, but from the reactions of the characters we know things are not normal.
One thing I liked about the introduction of Ava, the half-lamb, half-human child, is that both María and Ingvar form a strong bond with her immediately. Sometimes in these types of stories, the woman forms the bond fast and it's the man who tends to be more wary. But by showing us that María and Ingvar both form that bond at the same time speaks to their relationship and perhaps also to the fact that they've always wanted a family and yearned for a child.
This needs its own section because it's a stunning example of how minimalism and a deft touch can create a haunting atmosphere. The film's beautiful cinematography captures the breathtaking landscapes of the Icelandic countryside, adding an ethereal quality to the narrative. But it's also remote, barren, craggy and vast, representing the missing element in the character's lives up to this point. The story is presented at a deliberately slow-pace, echoing the pace of life on the farm where each day is filled with the same tasks.
The use of wide shots and long takes allows us to immerse ourselves in the characters' surroundings, emphasising the isolation and intimacy of the couple's farm and their unique situation.
The juxtaposition of the human and animal worlds is another visual aspect that the cinematography skillfully explores. Through well-composed shots, the film blurs the boundaries between the two, using framing and positioning to highlight the connection between María and the lamb. This artistic approach deepens the film's exploration of identity and the intertwining of nature and nurture.
At its core, Lamb explores profound themes of identity, acceptance, and the complexities of human relationships. As the narrative unfolds, María and Ingvar's relationship becomes strained, reflecting the challenges of parenthood and the struggle to preserve a sense of normalcy in extraordinary circumstances. The film raises thought-provoking questions about the boundaries between human and animal, nature and nurture, and the potential consequences of tampering with the natural order.
It's hard to categorise Lamb, and I think this is a deliberate choice on the part of the director. It's not quite a fantasy, as the fantastical elements never overshadow the very real and rooted human relationship at the centre of the story. It's not a horror, although there are horror elements - as we are given hints and glimpses at the bestial creature that impregnated the ewe in the first place, but we do not see this creature until the very end.
While the ending might seem unfair to some, I think it is intentionally mirroring something that happens earlier in the film, when María makes a choice that she can never take back.
Earlier in the film, the ewe that gave birth to Ada stands outside the farmhouse, bleating longingly at the window of the bedroom where Ada is sleeping in a cot. María struggles with this and ultimately makes the choice to shoot the ewe in the head and bury her. You have a feeling that there might be consequences at the time, but it's not until the end scene of the movie that you realise just how big those consequences are.
Ada's biological father - the Ram-man - returns to claim his daughter. A creature the size of the Ram-man could have easily incapacitated Ingvar and taken Ada without trouble, but instead it uses Ingvar's own rifle to fatally shoot him. This is when the consequences become clear: the life of a parent for the life of a parent.
María discovers Ingvar as he dies, but instead of chasing after the Ram-man and Ada, she stays with her husband, perhaps understanding that Ada was never meant to remain with them.
It's sad and beautiful and you're left wondering how these events will change María. Now that she's awake from the monotonous slumber of farm life, where will she go and what will she do? Now that she's tasted motherhood, how will that change her?
Overall this film is fascinating and quite unlike anything I've seen before. You can find it at the following places: