After having experienced a world plunged into confusion after the appearance of the pandemic in 2020, something changed inside each of us, our reality became a strange place where space and time behaved differently. At the same time that we felt that our world stopped for an instant, the unimaginable became possible and we had to learn to be observers of a world that continued to exist regardless of whether we actively participated in it or not.
Threatened by a living organism, invisible to our eyes, we became paralyzed, but nature never stopped its movement while we were confined. Under different narratives of control and fear, we became spectators of the environment we believed ourselves to be owners, and at that moment, our world became a dangerous place. We believed that the world belonged to us, but it was at that time that we realized the deep distance that exists between humans and nature. A nature that has been there before our mere existence and that has always been with us. It is time to recognize that we are a small part of it, and that nature is part of us, that even when we finish our journey, it will continue to exist.
WHAT IS HUMAN? WHAT IS NATURE? WHAT IS LIFE?
Valdimar Jóhannsson, born in Iceland in 1978, is known for his various collaborations in the film universe as a screenwriter, cameraman and effects technician, among other tasks. After two shorts Harmsaga (2008) and Dawn (2012) he directs his first feature film inspired by Icelandic folklore, written in collaboration with Sjón the story of Lamb (Iceland, 2021). Its projection caused a great impact on the public, it was awarded with Un certain regard award at Cannes Festival 2021. Lamb's originality can be attributed to several aspects, the first is that the category to which it belongs has been questionable, while some qualify it as an horror film, the suspense and drama present at all times establish a game of realities that make it difficult to distinguish between fantasy and fiction as we approach it as a possibility for a different existential reality, unimaginable to our limitations, simply something beyond.
Lamb takes place on a farm located in a lonely and desolate area of Iceland, Maria (Naomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) spend their days peacefully caring for their sheeps, the stillness of time gets interrupted by the radio program that announces Christmas Eve.
That night, a sheep is giving birth, as they approach to the barn, the surprise and astonishment arises while they witness that the newborn creature is an hybrid that has the body of a human baby and the head and one leg of a sheep. Not thinking too much about it, they accept that arrival as a miracle, taking the creature out of the stable to their home to raise her as their daughter. Infusing their lives with a new hope after having lost a child long ago, they determine to start a family with Ada. Living the peaceful passage of time, Maria and Ingvar watch Adagrow until their undisturbed life gets interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Ingvar's brother Petur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) who will violently confront them by questioning the "out of the ordinary" situation that is happening with Ada living in that home and urge them about the sanity of believing that an hybrid creature born from a sheep can be considered their daughter.
Maria (Naomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) in Lamb (2021), Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson.
There are few opportunities we have to experience the sense of wonder with the intensity and depth that Lamb presents us. While it plunges the viewer into a state of confusion the story becomes very difficult to understand and assimilate. The various gazes that are interwoven display layers of meaning throughout the entire plot, surprising us by the great amount of symbolism that is shown in a subtle way. At first glance, it is the desire of a couple to recover a lost paternity and form a family where they can experience the role of being parents again. But the paradigm of the family politics and the concept of the natural, understood as the "normalized" human norm is the first big break in the film.
Lamb (2021), Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson.
Throughout the entire plot, the religion criticism originally based through a birth, sustains the paradigm of the family as the first generator of human meaning. Just look at the flock of sheep as an allusion to faith, and the "birth" (of the creature) as a miracle, needless to say, it is no coincidence that she is called Maria.
Unfolding through the iconographic atmosphere, the narratives and the stories of the couple themselves develop with a suffocating intensity. The effortless and banal dialogues are enhanced by the long silences that line up with the thick mist to trace an extremely delicate rhythm that is present at all times. The time distension of the cyclical fluctuation of monotony is suddenly broken by the "prodigy arrival”. It becomes the instant that forces us to take a step back and position ourselves into the world of mythologies, as it was the first trigger for the configuration of the unfolding realities for humankind, and prepare ourselves to suspend logical questions for a moment and say, perhaps that is possible?
Lamb (2021), Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson.
Ada symbolizes the meeting point from which questions and reflections arise, despite being something non-human, and non-animal, she is a living being, which represents us a difficulty to try to find a common thread through which we can identify ourselves at first. Its through Ada’s approach that we are only able to observe a primal ingenuity, preventing us from exercising any type of moral questioning towards her, since she lacks personality. She is a creature that only exists according to the expectative loving gaze that Maria and Ingvar place on her. However, this illusion will be interrupted by the constant approach of the mother sheep wich demands every night by the window house, the returning of her belonging young sheep. While this visit becomes unsustainable and Maria feel threatened by her, she kills the sheep, and the idealized narrative of the perfect life becomes tinged with the dehumanization of the annihilation of what hinders her personal story.
Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) and Petur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) in Lamb (2021), Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson
It is with the arrival of Petur and his logical and realistic gaze that the crisis emerges to question our beliefs and our perceptions. It is not a question of validating or denying Ada’s presence as a real being. What arises at the situation is our ability to recognize through the fate of the visible the possibility of the existence of something beyond the dichotomy between the human and nature, as an unquestionable separation.
All along the history of humanity we have tried to control, dominate and appropriate nature itself as if it were something that exists apart from our existence. In Lamb, we can only observe that despite ourselves, nature claims what it owns. Giving us the opportunity to marvel every day at the universe of the visible and the real as something possible beyond the human spectrum, while the opportunity to wonder emerges raising to question ourselves again:
What is the human? What is nature? What is life beyond the human?
Pictures: Lamb (2021)
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