Primitive tribes passed on stories heard around the first campfires to their children. In time, these became folk tales, legends, myths, and fables. In creating these stories, adults got in touch with lessons learned from their experiences and the cacophony of different voices living within them.
Lamb is a 2021 Icelandic film which marks the feature-length directorial debut of Valdimar Johannsson who also co-wrote the screenplay with Sjon. This creative, well-acted, and pensive fable explores the mysterious
connections between human beings and animals. It is Iceland’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards.
Maria (Noomi Rapace) and her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) are sheep farmers who live in an isolated Icelandic valley. They share the rituals and everyday chores of a rural life. They are baffled by a band of wild horses who, along with their sheep dog and cat, seen to be spooked by an alien and menacing presence.
Maria and Ingvar are still grieving the death of their young daughter Ada. When a pregnant sheep gives birth to an infant with a lamb’s head and a human’s torso and legs, they do not reject her but happily nurture this hybrid and give her their daughter’s name. But Maria is troubled when Ada’s sheep mother keeps trying to connect with her.
Ingvar’s vagabond brother Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) stops by for a visit and is shocked by the ways Maria and Ingvar have organized their lives around Ada. When he tells them “it’s an animal, not a child,” they make it clear that they have chosen a new path and will not give up their love for Ada. And despite his doubts, soon Petur is interacting with the youngster.
This fable written by Johannsson and Sjon explores the demands and consequences of our relationships with animals. It challenges us to choose what we want to nurture and what we hope to bring to life. In The Souls of Animals, Gary Kowalski contemplates the connections between animals and humans:
“There is an old Latin motto, lupus est homo homini, that means ‘man is a wolf to man.’ Finding peace within and bringing peace to the world may start with the capacity to look into another’s eyes and to recognize there a kindred soul — whether the eyes belong to a German, a Dutchman, a friend or stranger, a chimpanzee, or even a wolf.
“What do we see when we look into the eyes of another living creature? A lesser being? An object of indifference? Or can we look more deeply? Can we touch the inwardness of that animal and empathize with its joys and concerns? Can we see other animals as they are, different from us but not wholly unlike ourselves? Here is an interspecies meditation you might like to try.”
Fellow-feeling with animals, or the kind of nurturing demonstrated by Maria and Ingvar, is to be recommended. But is there such a thing as overstepping the line between species? When does respect require keeping some distance? That’s something to think about as you watch this fable. As we did, we thought of this quote from Henry Beston:
“The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”