First time back at the cinema: Lamb and Pig Analysis

I went to the cinema this week. And while I was sitting in my chair waiting for the movie to start, I felt like I was about to have my life changed.

And I just kind of went, “wait, why do I feel this way?”

Sure I’ve been anticipating this particular film for a while now, but I usually expect movies I watch in the cinema to be good.

Before I even thought I would watch a movie on this day, I noted with annoyance that I still needed to get a haircut. I had told myself I needed to get a haircut two weeks ago now that the lockdown had ended!

It was my day off, and as I said had no plans to go to the cinema. I was also hungry and wanted coffee. And I was like, why don’t I go out, eat something and get a haircut?

And I realised I had become hesitant. I had anxiety.

And I was like, oh, that’s not good.

I ended up recalling that before the lockdown, the last two films I saw was Akira and High Ground. At the time when I saw those films, I was exhilarated by them.

But now that I was reminiscing on them in my newly realised state of anxiety, it felt therapeutic.

I didn’t want to go to the cinema. I needed to go to the cinema.

What I wanted was to see Lamb and Pig.

It is worth noting that despite one of these being an A24 distributed film and the other a Nicolas Cage venture, Lamb and Pig were not available at any of the big commercial cinemas nearby.

I had to go a little bit further into Sydney and attend two independent cinemas that gave enough damn about Lamb and Pig for me to see them.

By the way, the fact that I saw two films that were both titled by a farm animal on the same day was genuinely a coincidence. And as I said, I went to two cinemas, yet both films were in cinema 5.

So the first place I went to was the Dendy Cinema in Newtown where I watched Lamb.

Lamb was a film spoken entirely in Icelandic, starring Noomi Rapace in the lead role, who I fondly knew as the original actress for Lisbeth Salander. However, most might know her best as Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus – which is a film I have a soft spot for.

To me, this is easily the most vital film I have seen her in yet. And I’m going to talk about it spoilers and all. So that is your warning.

My expectation for this film going in was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds but with sheep. I can’t exactly say that’s what I got in the end, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t get that either.

The film starts from an unseen creature’s perspective walking through a wintry scape before descending on Maria and Ingvar’s sheep farm and impregnating one sheep.

After the winter passes and before that particular sheep gives birth, the film crucially shows us how Maria and Ingvar tend to their sheep and assist in the birthing of the new lambs. That is to say, they do so in a usual manner. I used to have a pet sheep, and I knew some sheep farmers when I was younger. And from my experience, sheep farmers typically don’t love their sheep individually but rather care for them as a group. They tend to have numbers, not names.

And I think the actors did a great job of evoking that type of attentiveness in this film.

The film also quietly establishes that the couple tragically has a deceased child. Had it not been for their interaction with the sheep, the audience could have easily mistaken their decision to take the last newborn lamb in as a disturbing attempt at replacing their child. But because of their difference in reaction and the fact that the camera does not show the last lamb’s body, we understand there is an unselfish reason for why they take it in as their own. The fact that it is later revealed that they named the lamb Ada after their child illustrates that some of their reasoning is motivated by their grief and loss.

I don’t consider Lamb to be a horror film. It’s more of a drama film with elements that are historically associated with horror.

Let’s take Rosemary’s Baby, for example. Rosemary’s pregnancy and its circumstances are what takes up most of the film’s run time. This builds up a dread to the titular baby’s reveal. We, the audience, never see the baby; the climax of the horror instead relies on Rosemary’s horrified reaction to it, which causes our minds to scare themselves.

In Lamb, this movie’s titular thing is revealed on camera and pretty early onto less horror and just more bewilderment.

The film challenges the audience to adjust to what Ada is. A human child with the head of a lamb.

The circumstances of Ada are also a lot more direct than, say, in another classic horror film Omen. In that film, Damien’s mother is suggested to have been some wild dog. And the film’s language uses this as a way of confirming that Damien is a Satan spawn.

But here in Lamb, there is no conspiracy or grand plan for Ada by an outside group. She’s just a kid. Oh my god…

Building up to the reveal of Ada’s human body is the birth mother trying to contact her, which results in Ada almost dying of exposure.

Because of this, instead of considering maybe having Ada’s birth mother live with them in the house so that Ada can have both her sheep and human needs met, Maria decides to unnecessarily killing the sheep.

I believe Maria’s decision to kill the sheep mother was not in the best interests of Ada but was instead motivated by jealousy.

This theory becomes more so apparent when Ingvar’s brother Petur arrives on the farm. At first, he is very unsettled by what they are doing and asks Ingvar, “what the fuck is this?” To which Ingvar says “happiness”.

Unlike Maria, Ingvar and Ada, who are all content together, Petur is not so lucky. He makes sexual advances on Maria and eventually develops a loving bond with Ada, who is essentially Ingvar’s daughter.

He covets what his brother has, which is meant to mirror Maria’s relationship with the mother sheep. Since Maria could not obtain her own animality, she responded with extreme irrationality, which was a choice.

Unlike, say, two other A24 films, The VVitch and Hereditary, which did name their monsters but ultimately never revealed Satan and Paimon on camera, Lamb does disclose the form of its creature whose presence is felt throughout the film and surprisingly unveiled at the end.

While Maria gets rid of Petur on amicable terms, Ingvar and Ada go off to fix a tractor to no avail before heading back home. Ingvar, unfortunately, gets shot in the neck by a giant human ram who has stolen one of their shotguns. The creature then takes a sad and afraid Ada, his daughter, away and leaves Ingvar to die.

Maria finds Ingvar dead without Ada and never finds out what happened.

Earlier I said that my expectation for this film was of Hitchcock’s The Birds and how that was somewhat met. The thing with The Birds is that we don’t determine the birds’ intentions, if they have any at all. But a lot of people interpret the film as nature taking revenge on humanity.

And in the case of Lamb, the ending is directly about taking revenge. However, it’s less of nature and more of a freak of nature in this case.

By the end of the film, most are bound to feel weird – both by the imagery of seeing actual sheeple and the implications of the film.

We feel bad that Ada gets taken away from her dying human dad, but really if you think about it from the HuRam’s perspective, he’s very much in the right to do all this. Because it is not any different from what Maria did, who took a sheep’s child from her mother and then murdering said mother.

While sure Petur is a piece of shit during his stay, he, at the very least, does take a hint to fuck off at the end of the story, and at no point did it ever cross his mind to kill his brother just get what he wanted. Unlike Maria. Though he initially considered killing Ada at one point, he once again, unlike Ada, realises this doesn’t seem right and starts loving his niece.

And so when you see Maria holding her husband, wondering what happened to her daughter, you uncomfortably realise she’s gotten exactly what she deserved plus mercy.

The true monster is the one left alone at the end.

The cruelty of the situation really is just the lack of closure.

I was impressed with the direction of this film. I think many people will probably watch it thinking the lamb child will be building up to becoming a dangerous monster, so I’m glad that it subverted my expectations by keeping her in the zone of innocence from start to finish. And the victim of adults’ decisions. So I hope a lot of people see it with an open mind.

After watching Lamb, I drove to the Palace Norton Street Cinema in Leichhardt to watch Pig. And having watched Lamb, Pig ended up helping me rematerialize my humanity.

Like with Lamb, I could not help but go into this film with an expectation. This time I thought I was in for Taken but about getting a Pig back.

However, as I was watching, it became more similar to John Wick in a way.

Unlike in Taken, where Liam Neeson’s character has to navigate a world he doesn’t understand, John Wick is about a guy who gets dragged back into a world that is very familiar with the express purpose of avenging the murder of his puppy.

And that’s what happens with Nicolas Cage’s character Rob Feld. After his pet pig is kidnapped, he returns to a shady culinary world that he remembers all too well.

But unlike John Wick, who killed something like 74 people in the first film, Rob has a chance to go back to his new life with his one and only foraging pig – named Pig.

And the film becomes the anti-violent answer to John Wick. At no point does Rob ever resort to committing violence to get his pet pig back, no matter how much anyone deserves it. Instead, we get a scene where Rob willingly allows violence to be done on himself so that he can get a little bit closer to finding his pig’s whereabouts.

Another comparison I couldn’t help making while watching was Rob Feld to Jeffrey The Dude Lebowski. They both live simple lives, enjoy simple pleasures, don’t care about what anyone thinks of them, they’re not materialistic and are also forced to stand up to a wealthy force one way or another.

While the Dude cares a little bit just about enough to stop anyone from dying, Rob Felds cares about nothing except deeply about everyone. Especially those he doesn’t like. Which is everyone in this movie, pretty much. He cares so much about everyone around him that he knows people better than they know themselves.

And so the movie ends up having these subplots or cautionary tales about people compromising their dreams in a cutthroat restaurant industry as well as their integrity.

So because of Rob’s persistent memory and empathy for who people are deep down, we end up caring even more for Rob’s search for his Pig.

So if you don’t know, truffles are expensive. I don’t know if they taste any good, but in any case, truffle hunting is what Rob’s current occupation is. And because of how lucrative that business is, and the fact that some hunters use dogs and pigs to sniff out the root fungi, outsiders assume that Rob is just trying to get his pig back not because it’s his pet, but because it’s his truffle compass.

And so when Rob explains to Amir (by the way, I just want to say that I really enjoyed Alex Wolf’s performance as an arsehole with depth) that he already knows how to find truffles by himself, this prompts Amir to ask why he wants the pig back. To which Rob responds that it is because he loves her.

So the reason I thought this was interesting is because traditionally, in children’s media, films about pigs tend to be about finding a purpose or rather an alternative value or commodity to humans that will hopefully save their lives.

So it’s rather sweet that this film intended for adults runs counter to that idea.

The pig has nothing of value. It’s just a beloved pig.

And sadly, the underrated virtues of Rob don’t pay off as he is told that during the kidnapping of his pig, the handlers were too rough, and the pig succumbed to injuries and passed away.

When this reveal happened, me and the two others watching, we all collectively gasped at this moment just as Rob fell to his knees and wept at the news. Seriously Nicolas Cage was moving in this film.

So how we get to this point is that Amir’s dad is the one who organised the Pig’s kidnapping as a means of discouraging Amir out of the culinary business. I’m not entirely sure if that made any sense, but whatever. And so this character is built up for us to hate him and get revenged on.

But in the end, his humanity gets the better of him, and he’s the one who tearfully admits the pig was injured, succumbed and died. And you realize in retrospect that he had tried to spare Rob the tragedy of learning this.

I mentioned before that I used to have a pet sheep. Her name was Barbara, and I got her for Christmas. And I loved her. I loved feeding her; I loved running around with her and petting her. I think I just loved loving her.

And unfortunately – it didn’t last.

A dog killed Barbara. And for a very long time, I was angry about it. I remember feeling angry about it up until I was twenty. I was mad at the dog we never caught, I was mad at its owner we never identified, and I did go looking for a few months. And I was angry at my neighbours for leaving their gate open when they knew there was a hole in our shared fence. And I was mad at people for not understanding why my sheep’s death was a big deal to me.

I’ve become somewhat regretful of that anger, particularly of the amount of time I held onto it for.

And I felt a lot of peace come over me when Rob confronted Amir’s dad with compassion, and he broke down crying with Rob, remorsing his actions.

And so, not only does this film become anti-revenge in its messaging, it becomes pro-forgiveness. Or at least this is mainly shown through Rob maintaining his business relationship with Amir more amicably than at the beginning of the film.

I also really like Amir’s staring at the wall moment at the end where he rugs up in his car because he can’t drive yet after everything.

So to go back to my original question as to why I felt like my life was going to change when I was waiting for the movie to start, well, it was a stretch of a feeling. Still, I think it was partly because of how unfamiliar the cinema experience had become to me but also I believe it’s because every time I watch a new film like this, I feel a little changed on the inside. And that kind of explanation helps me understand why I like movies.

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