Sometimes life gets in the way of things we want to do. I had great plans to write a Christmas article, but with a new job and other responsibilities, time just got away from me. So, here I am to kick off the New Year with a film breakdown, and this is one that has stuck in my head since I watched it.
Back in 2017, there were reports of a birth of a lamb/human hybrid in South Africa, this quite rightly scared the locals and was taken as a bad omen. Assumptions were made that a man had fornicated with a sheep to create some unholy being. These rumours were quickly quashed with a blood test confirming that the sheep had an infection which had impacted the growth of the lamb. Also, just to really cement the proof that this was not a hybrid, officials confirmed that the being had 28 chromosomes which is the correct amount for a sheep, whereas humans have 23. Should you want to see the news article, you can find it here.
The film “Lamb” is currently in cinemas therefore, if you are planning to see it and don’t want me to spoil it for you, look away now, but please do come back and have a read once you have watched it.
This story was eight years in the making, with director and writer Vladimar Jóhannsson in no hurry to rush something which essentially had been with him since his childhood. Whilst working in the film industry for the last 20 years, this is Jóhannsson debut film and it is a corker of a mythical proportion.
The film is set in the stark yet beautiful landscape of Iceland on a working sheep farm. It is Christmas day as a presence enters the barn…
Next we see Maria (Noomi Rapace) and her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) working the farm. There is little dialogue, and their day to day life is filled with tasks of the farm, and little else. The lack of dialogue and the intertwined shots of the landscape tell of a desolate existence.
While delivering lambs in one of the barns (in fairly graphic reality), something unusual is born, Maria wraps the “lamb” in Ingvar’s coat and nods to him knowingly, and takes the creature back to the house.
Maria starts to tend to the “lamb” as if it was a human child. In the days that follow, Ingvar retrieves an unused cot from a barn and sets it up in there bedroom for the “lamb” to sleep in.
The lambs real sheep mother starts to linger around the bedroom window, calling to its lamb, wanting it to return to the heard. As Maria and Ingvar shoo the sheep away, you see a human like arm move in the cot.
The mother sheep situation escalates to the sheep managing to get into the farmhouse and leading the lamb/child out to the field. A panicked Maria and Ingvar go searching for the creature which they have now called Ada, which they eventually find with the sheep. Maria takes Ada from the sheep and starts to return to the house – screaming at the sheep to stop following them.
Meanwhile, Ingvar’s brother, Petur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) is thrown out of a car near to the farm, and he makes his way to them. He arrives just as Maria is taking the sheep mother out and shooting it, before burying it in a shallow grave. Petur doesn’t reveal he is there at this time, choosing to sleep the night in one of the barns.
The next day, Petur goes to the farmhouse and is invited in by Ingvar. As they have breakfast, Maria and Ada come through, and the audience finally sees the lamb/child for the full extent of what it is – a human, with a lambs head and one hoof instead of a hand. It is dressed in childs clothing and sits at the table ready for breakfast.
Petur is disturbed by Ada and questions why they haven’t shot it. Ingvar tells Petur that he can stay but he needs to accept Ada.
Petur becomes more disturbed by Ada, but sees Maria in the bath with her, and this brings on a flurry of sexual advances, which Maria rejects.
One morning, while Maria and Ingvar sleep, Petur takes Ada out with the intention of shooting her, but has a change of heart as Ada stands in front of him, look at him with innocent eyes. Petur then becomes something of an uncle figure to Ada, offering to take her out fishing with him so Maria and Ingvar can have some quiet time.
Maria visits the grave of her real daughter Ada, revealing that the creature has just taken the place of her dead child. She then returns to the farm house, where her and Ingvar start drinking and enjoying each others company.
As Petur and Ada return, the tracker they were using for transport breaks down and they have to walk back. On returning Petur joins in the frivolities before they all watch a game of handball. Ingvar gets extremely drunk and goes to bed, and Ada who witnesses the dark presence from the start of the film, is put to bed with her father. Petur tries his luck with Maria again and she plays along when he reveals that he saw her shoot Ada’s mother, and threatens to tell Ada. Maria manages to lock Petur in a cupboard and plays the piano to drown out his calls.
The next morning Maria wakes early and takes Petur to a bus stop, telling him to go home. Ingvar wakes and seeing that Maria has gone out, takes Ada to see if they can fix the tractor. As the pair walk through the farm, a half man half ram appears and shoots Ingvar in the neck, and leads a tearful Ada off into the wilderness.
A short time later Maria goes looking for Ada and Ingvar, and finds Ingvar barely alive. She clings to him as he dies, realising that Ada has been taken back to the wild, she tearfully stands away from her husbands dead body.
Initially, I thought that this film may have some bearing towards either greek mythology, inasmuch as a centaurian child is born and then looked after by mortals, only to be taken back into the fold of its natural habitat once realised by the father when it was being held. Or perhaps it was some Icelandic folklore, but really, they are more about elves and giant cats. After some research and reading responses from Jóhannsson about the origins of the film, it is evident that sheep and cryptids are something that have been with him for a long time, and while this story could easily sit within either myth of folklore camp, it is essentially an original story.
It may feel initially that this film is about the development and ultimate return of Ada, but it is really about Maria, the mother deprived and her journey. Rapace worked alongside Jóhannsson to create the character of Maria, drawing on her experience of growing up on an Icelandic farm and now being a mother. The character of Maria is the linchpin in the film, as without her, Ingvar would have probably shot the creature at birth, but with the motherly bond that Maria brings, he is swept along with the replacement of the child they lost.
The end can feel quite confusing, and really, it is, there is no neatly tied up explanation of the events that occur, nothing that explains the ram man, or why he didn’t want his child brought up by Ingvar and Maria, it is very open to interpretation. My personal view is that man was almost trying to play God in this instance and taking a being from its natural habitat and change it for their own needs. The ram man is simply returning the balance of nature, or it could be that Maria is forever to be in the role of the doomed mother, reliving the lost of a child over and over again.
There is a lot to admire about this film, from its stunning cinematography and long landscape shots to the 200 scenes filmed in 36 days, using 10 children, multiple lambs and a team of puppeteers, who bring together what can really only be described as a masterpiece in technology as the lamb child is creepily real.
There is a heavy scenes of impending doom that runs through the film and this could be attributed to the very minimalist script, but fantastic acting from the two main character, who have built up a rapport that body language and facial expressions give the audience more than words ever could.
This film met mixed reviews at its debut, and I can understand why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are deeply into stories of all things bizarre, this is a film that should tick a lot of boxes for you.
Have you seen “Lamb”? Why not tell me what you thought in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?