Often, in stories or in life, the loss of a loved one creates a shallow gap between individuals. The melancholic crack keeps on expanding like a black hole until and unless one either finds closure to the tragedy or fills it with something (maybe another being). Valdimar Jóhannsson’s supernatural film, Lamb (or Dýrið in Icelandic), is a similar tale about two couples who yearn to find happiness in their mundane and lonely lives.
Lamb marks the debut of director Valdimar Jóhannsson, who has also co-written the film with Icelandic author, Sjón. The narrative is divided into three chapters that serve as the 3-act structure of the screenplay.
‘Lamb’ Plot Summary
Farmer Maria and her husband, Ingvar Ingvarsdottir, live on an isolated farm near the Reykjavik, Icelandic mountains. In their small barn, the couple also breeds sheep for their wool.
The couple plows their land for the new season and marks the new lambs as the new year begins. During a ewe (adult sheep) parturition, Maria and Ingvar find a hybrid creature coming out of pregnant sheep 3115’s womb. The anthropomorphic creature is half sheep and half-human. Intrigued by its physical traits, Maria takes the Lamb home and raises it as her own.
Maria grows fond of the creature and names it after her stillborn daughter, Ada. However, as the farmer couple weaves a happy world around the Lamb, the creature’s biological mother constantly calls out to Ada. Feeling a blood connection with the ewe, Ada walks out of the house. Maria and Ingvar panic after Ada’s disappearance and try to find their new daughter. They spot her near the mountains sitting beside her biological mother. Maria authoritatively brings Ada to her house, and decides to find a solution to keep the baby all for herself.
Why did Maria Shoot Ada’s biological mother?
Maria and Ingvar were trying to overcome an incurable loss, the loss of their stillborn daughter, Ada. At the beginning of the film, Ingvar read from a magazine that scientists are saying that time travel is possible now. At this point, Maria remembered the tragic loss and commented, “I expect it’ll be just as possible to go back in time.” In her melancholy dialogues, Maria subtly hinted at the loss of Ada.
Perhaps the heavens heard their “evening prayer” and sent the Lamb, a Christian symbol. As soon as Maria took in (or stole) Lamb Ada, she started having visions. The symbolism of these visions was to create a threat or insecurity in Maria’s mind that her newfound happiness doesn’t belong to her.
One day, when Maria and Ingvar left the newborn alone, its biological mother took her to the mountains. Maria feared that the new Ada would be taken away just like her real daughter. She couldn’t imagine another loss and separation, and so to secure the Lamb, she killed the creature’s biological mother.
Maria buried Lamb’s biological mother in an unmarked grave. She didn’t want anyone to find out her secret. But suddenly, Ingvar’s brother, Pétur, arrived on the farm and saw Maria burying the ewe.
What did Pétur want?
Probably, the loss of their daughter led to a temporary detachment between Maria and Ingvar. Maybe, a grieving Maria craved for some attachment to overcome the loss. And maybe, to cope with the tragedy, she initiated an extramarital affair with Ingvar’s brother, Pétur.
As Pétur arrived on the farm, Ingvar outlined that he had come back “again.” Pétur was a struggling singer who owed money to people or fellow artists. They threw Pétur out of the car, and that was how he ended up on his brother’s farm. As soon as Pétur arrived, he was shocked to see Maria and Ingvar’s attachment to the anthropomorphic Lamb. Initially, he resented the creature and tried to kill it, but the innocence and the light radiating from the Lamb’s body changed Pétur’s heart.
In Ingvar’s absence, Pétur made advances towards Maria, which she subtly rejected. Probably because Maria had initiated an affair with Pétur when she was grieving for her daughter, but now the couple had found new happiness in the form of the Lamb. Hence, Maria didn’t want to cheat on her husband anymore.
At the end of the film, Pétur, trying to sleep with Maria, blackmailed her into revealing to Ada that Maria had killed her biological mother. Maria understood that Pétur was the antagonist who may ruin their new world, and thus she took Pétur to the bus stop and asked him to leave.
How was Lamb Ada born?
The prologue sequence of the film was shot from the point of view of a loudly-breathing creature. During Christmas night, under a heavy snowstorm, the creature found its way to the farmer’s barn. In the barn, the creature probably saw Lamb Ada’s mother (3115) and impregnated her. Sometime later, the ewe number 3115 gave birth to an anthropomorphic lamb that heavily suggested that her father was probably a hybrid like herself.
On the night Pétur came to the farm, in his sleep, he saw a minotaur-like hybrid ram standing near the barn’s entrance. The creature made a third appearance when Maria, Ingvar, and Pétur were celebrating inside the house, and Ada came out hearing a voice. She saw her biological father while the dog barked at the creature. The hybrid ram shot the dog and left.
At the end, when Maria took Pétur to the bus stop, Ingvar took Ada to the mountains to repair the tractor. While playing on the grass, Ada sensed her father approaching the tractor, and in the next frame, the hybrid ram shot Ingvar. An innocent Ada mourned for her adoptive father while her biological father dragged her away.
‘Lamb’ Ending Explained
Maria came out to the mountain looking for Ingvar and Ada, where she found Ingvar’s dead body. Maria looked into the camera as she tried to come to terms with two tragic losses; first, the loss of her husband, and second, the loss of her lamb child. She looked beyond the horizon, trying to locate Ada or probably another silver lining to live through the tragedy. But she couldn’t. The camera captured a weeping mother and a wife who lost everything in her pursuit to fill her tragic void.
The symbolism of the tale could be many. It depends upon the mind or the culture that tries to decipher the end. But in simple words, it is a moral tale that conveys that when one tries to steal from another creature for selfish reasons, nature punishes the wrong-doer for his or her sins. Maria killed Lamb Ada’s biological mother and stole her newborn child. To take revenge on the humans, Ada’s biological father came out from the wilderness and took his child back to the mountains.
In Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha, identified by his elephant head, is also an anthropomorphic figure. According to the mythology, Lord Ganesha’s human head was cut off by his father, Shiva, in anger. Later, Shiva felt bad for his rage and, in a calm state, used his godly powers to bring back his son. He attached an elephant’s head on the headless boy’s body, thereby giving a new life to Ganesha or Ganapati.
In Greek mythology, Minotaur was a creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull.
Valdimar Jóhannsson’s film tries to combine two mythologies from different cultures to carve out a meaningful tale. However, while the film has its unique elements that startle a viewer, it fails to create a lasting impact.
Lamb (or Dýrið) is a 2021 Supernatural Thriller film directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson. The film is produced by A24.