WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Lamb, now playing in theaters
Lamb is a wholly unique film, befitting the strange and ethereal nature of the filmmaking by director/co-writer Valdimar Jóhannsson and star Noomi Rapace. Focusing on Rapace’s Maria and her husband Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason), the film largely centers on their time with a young Ada — a half-goat/human hybrid that one of their animals birthed. The innately bizarre concept creates an honest look at motherhood while never forgetting the power and scope of the natural world around them that at any point could confront them.
During a Lamb Q&A attended by CBR and other news outlets, Noomi Rapace and Valdimar Jóhannsson spoke about the origins of the film and reflected on the film’s shocking ending.
Discussing the origins of the film, Jóhannsson shared, “It all started from visuals. I wanted to make a feature film and so I started to collect some references to create some moods… I already did some drawings of Ada and then just it went dark… Mystic photos or paintings. It all started there and then I met Sjón. My producers introduced me to Sjón, who’s a writer. He writes amazing books and he used a lot of elements from folktales. After he saw the [pictures], we started working together.”
Rapace — who told the audience she’d been waiting for a project that spoke to her personally as Lamb does — revealed how she got involved with the project. “Basically, the mood board, the visual book that Valdimar created,” Rapace replied. “He came to London with his mood board and the script and a book of collected poems of Sjón. He gave me this little package and he stepped outside my balcony and had a cigarette and left me. I was like, “Wait, is he not going to pitch it to me? Is he not like going to try to sell the movie to me?” But he didn’t. He just let the [images and the script] speak for itself.”
“I started looking at those kinds of disturbing and beautiful images and they just burned a mark in me,” Rapace continued. “I felt like I was kind of lost and found. I think that it happens very rarely that I feel this immediate connection, not just with the character, but with the whole story and the universe. I felt like I’ve been waiting for this. This is something that my entire being has been asking for, and so it was not a question of if I should do it. I was just already doing it. From that point, we started conversations and a lot of the conversations were just images that were sent back and forth because he doesn’t talk much. He uses images.”
The Icelandic nature of the story and the setting were also important elements for Rapace, who shared, “I moved to Iceland when I was five and I always felt like an outsider and a weirdo. I remember coming there and I was like, “I belong to this country.” I felt embraced. Nature is a character and you can’t hide [from it]. Whatever’s going on in you will come out there. So if you want to avoid some things, you shouldn’t go there. But I always felt like it’s a country with very strong energy there, somehow, that forces me to confront myself.”
“It brought me back to my roots and also felt like I peeled off lots of layers of behaviors and half-truths that are not needed,” she continued. “But also to work with a filmmaker like Valdimar who pays so much attention to details and is so interested in the human nature and who we are in really deep study. I felt like I could just be pure, somehow. So it’s a combination of different things, but definitely for me to go to the most honest place in myself.”
Lamb‘s remote location is one of its most memorable elements. The A24 film is set in a small farm hidden near a river and at the side of an imposing and snowy mountain. “We found this beautiful location,” Jóhannsson explained. “We have been looking for a farm, I think, for I don’t know how long time, but we drove two times around Iceland. This farm that we found, it was not like the clay farm but it was very interesting and had a beautiful landscape around it. There was nothing around and nobody had lived there for 20 years. It was a perfect location.”
“It was shot up in the north of Iceland, outside of a city, and it’s basically in a valley and when you drive in, it’s like an hour from the nearest gas station,” Rapace said. “You drive into the valley and our phones die. Everything just dies. You’re trapped in this environment where it’s like, we shot in the summer, it never goes dark so you just feel like it was strange. It felt like we logged out from this world and entered the Lamb world and we stayed in that for the summer, slowly drowning and drifting further away from reality.”
The ending of the film positions Maria as the only survivor of her family unit. Maria’s husband was killed by Ada’s apparent ram-man father, who led Maria’s adopted daughter back into the wilderness. Reflecting on Maria’s mental state as the film ends with her anguished cry, Rapace shared, “I think that in the beginning, when you meet Maria, it’s like her life is on hold. She paused. The pain of losing her daughter is too much to handle, so I think she’s shut down. She’s just surviving. She’s not living. And then… The second Ada is born, it’s like a bridge. It becomes an opportunity to start a healing process. It’s like emotional oxygen into a locked-off space. And then she starts to come to life and you can see her during that summer.”
“She starts to open up and she gets colors and she makes love and she dances,” she continued. “But I think she always somehow knew that she took something that doesn’t belong to her and that it will come to an end. She describes Ada as a gift and it’s like happiness, but it’s also stolen happiness in a way. So I think in the end, she’s back in life and she has full access to her pain, but she’s living and she’s there. It’s the beginning of a new chapter. We’ve been talking a lot about there are lots of different versions of what’s going on there, but she’s not going after Ada. She’s not looking for Ada because she knew that Ada was never hers to keep. It’s like happiness in a way, for her, so she had to let go of that to be able to move forward.”
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Noomi Rapace Explains Why A24’s Lamb Ending Is Actually a Happy One