SPOILERS AHEAD: Do not read until you have seen “Lamb,” in theaters now.
Director Valdimar Jóhannsson deliberately kept the ending of “Lamb” vague, wanting audiences to open up discussions.
The film, a viral sensation after its trailer debut follows a childless couple who discover a hybrid lamb baby — half-human, half lamb. They take her in and raise her as their own child, but as Jóhannsson says: When you take from nature, it takes from you.
Jóhannsson talks about the film’s ending, the birthing scene and his reaction to “Lamb” baby going viral.
What was your reaction to the trailer going viral when it first dropped?
I have to admit, I was not expecting that. We wanted to make a film that we wanted to see and had not seen. I wasn’t sure how people would like it or even be interested in it.
What did you want to say with the movie especially in terms of loss and grief as a core theme?
When we were writing the script there were so many elements that we talked about. In a way, we just wanted the audience to somehow come up with their ideas. And after meeting people who have seen the film, it’s almost as if no two people read the film the same way.
There’s not a lot of dialogue in the film, so much of it is about the visual aspect of storytelling. What was it like working with the actors in this way?
From the beginning, Sjón and I decided to have as little dialogue as possible. We wanted to do as much as possible with images. Since we also see things from the point of view of the animals, people start reading into the film and start thinking they know what the animals are thinking, and because of that, they start to do that with the actors and read their body language, so that’s what we were going for.
What was it like working with Noomi Rapace?
Noomi was so invested in the project. We created the character of Maria together, and we worked through almost every scene. She was so prepared and she had been thinking about this character for so long.
For me, as a first-time director, it was such a privilege to work with her. Both she and Hilmir Snær Guðnason gave me so much because they were working so closely together.
What about filming the actual lamb scenes, what went into that?
We worked with a lot of children – 10. We had four lambs and we had two puppeteers. We shot every scene that Ada was in, and in the end it was all mixed so she felt alive.
I worked with a Swedish company called Chimney and with Fredrik Nord who was the visual effects supervisor. I had collected paintings and photos and even artwork to come up with these ideas – she was there with us from the beginning. For her, we also pulled in elements from Icelandic folklore. My grandparents were sheep farmers and I spent my childhood hanging out there. Lambs are such fascinating creatures so maybe the inspiration of her came from there.
You left the ending vague — is Ada a figment of their imagination or is she 100% real?
I like to keep it open, but when we were making the film, it’s totally real. She is totally real. She had to be for the audience.
How did you film a sequence like the bathtub scene with Ada and Maria?
All the scenes with Ada were time-consuming because we had to do the scenes over and over. First, with the children, then with the lambs. It took so much time. Also, children don’t do what you want them to do, and animals too, you have to be patient waiting for the right moment to happen.
How much time did you spend studying animal behavior?
Before I started shooting, I was hired as an assistant on the farm and was there during the lambing period. It was so important for me because it had been a while since I had worked with my grandparents on the farm.
The cats were divas on the set. Whenever when we came in the morning, they would be doing what we had needed them to do the day before.
What is the significance of the Lamb-Man reveal?
I’m very boring, but that ending could have a lot of different meanings. It could be nature. If you take something from it, it will take it back. It could be karma and that ending could stand for so many things?
How much of the script changed during the filming process?
We actually took out more dialogue when we were shooting because we only had 36 days to shoot 200 scenes. Working with animals and children takes time so I had to make some sacrifices.
Can you share what shooting the birth scene was like?
Noomi had arrived on set. She had driven from up north, and that tractor scene was the first scene she had done. When she arrived, there were only ten sheep left that had not given birth, so it was stressful. She watched the farmer do it twice, and she jumped in. She’s such a trooper.
Going back to the ending, where do you think she would go from here? A theory is that maybe she’s pregnant in the end which is why she would then be happy?
Noomi and I have different opinions. I have changed my mind a few times about what that means. I think Maria is definitely the strongest character in the film and is probably the only one who can survive after this. I think Ingvar is willing to do almost anything for Maria to make her happy. But I like that theory, it might be my new favorite theory about her. I think it’s brilliant.
Will we also be talking “Lamb 2” because now you’ve opened this door that there is an entire lamb population?
We were talking about that, maybe there will be a “Lamb 2” where we could go into that world and meet the creatures there, and there’s a society there.
What was the challenge in bringing this film to life?
Almost all of it. To direct your first feature, you have to be into everything. It’s such a privilege to make a film. It was a complicated script that could have been a disaster had it not worked.