SSIFF Review: 'The Other Lamb' Questions Humanity's Obedient Nature
by Alex Billington
September 23, 2019
Are humans naturally obedient? What does it take for someone to realize they're being led on, fed nonsense to keep them in line. How do they break free from the group mentality? These are just a few of the questions that this intriguing film brings up. The Other Lamb is the latest film made by acclaimed Polish filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska, her first entirely English language feature following her Berlin Film Festival hit Mug from 2018 (which won her a Grand Jury Prize Silver Bear). Her style is on full display this time, telling a dark fairy tale-esque story about an group of only women living as a small congregation on their own in a forest. There is one man who leads them all, known as the "Shepherd", who refers to them as his wives and daughters. It's eerie, but that is the point. The film criticizes the patriarchal society we live in, and religion.
The easiest way to simply describe The Other Lamb is to say it's a lot like M. Night Shyamalan's The Village if it were run by Charles Manson (right down to the way that the main "Shepherd" man has long hair and a beard like Manson). There's influences from "The Handmaid's Tale" and Darren Aronofsky's Mother in this as well, but it's more of an atmospheric take on a tiny colony of
people women living on their own without any contact with the civilized world that surrounds them. We follow one young "daughter", a woman named Selah played by Raffey Cassidy, who is pious and outspoken. But as she begins to grow up (literally going through puberty) and slowly starts to see the truth about her devout existence, she notices how insane and dangerous it all is. And while it isn't easy for her to break free from this obedience, she can begin to feel the change inside of her thanks to conversations with a woman who lives as an outcast separate from the others.
Anyone who criticizes this film and claims "this isn't realistic" is dead wrong - oh so many people in real life follow others and have blind faith and can't see how they're caught up in it all themselves. Charles Manson being one of the best example of this. The only reason we're still fascinated by him is because many are still wondering how he was able to convince so many (young women) to follow him and his word, no matter what it was he said/did. There's a film about this - Charlie Says. The Other Lamb screenplay is by an Australian writer, C.S. McMullen, and touches upon many forms of obedience - religion, capitalism, culture. These all exist, and it is very real. And just because this film tries to distill this concept of obedience into a 90 minute feature doesn't mean it's idiotic or immature - only those who refuse to read further into it and see beneath the surface-level story might feel this way. But there's plenty of turmoil in this film to analyze and discuss.
I honestly love that The Other Lamb is also a clear reference for religious obedience (because piousness and blind faith seriously bothers me). On one hand it is an obvious metaphor for women in society following one man and listening to him (a father, or boss, or any kind of leader), no matter how horribly he treats them, because it gives them "sisterhood". On the other hand, it's also a compelling metaphor for religion of all kinds. Michiel Huisman playing the Shepherd has the look of Charles Manson, but he also has the look of Jesus - with the long hair and beard, acting and speaking angelically through poetic verses. And what makes the film so compelling to watch is in the way all of his followers, his group of wives and daughters, continue to convince themselves that all of this is good and doing what he says makes them worthy of his love. Being rejected by him means they're bad, and this is how that vicious cycle continues. Exactly as in the real world.
As much as I appreciate the ideas and questions the film brings up, it's far from being an exceptional work. It's a good film, it has very strong style and aesthetic, but it's still a few steps away from being truly great. There's too many strange creative choices that get in the way, and it doesn't dig as deep as it could exploring this frightening obedience. Raffey Cassidy unfortunately seems miscast, and despite her attempts at giving a deeply meaningful performance, it becomes frustratingly bland. We never really truly get to understand why and how she changes. It seems clear that the film's most important message is that we can only break free and escape the cycle of dangerous obedience by working through it ourselves. No one can tell you or explain how to do it, you just have to figure it out on your own. The film isn't great at showing this through dialogue or performances, but it's still the loudest message being screamed out. One we should all be thinking about.
Alex's SSIFF 2019 Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing
Shame it wasn't better. The bystander effect and transference are so interesting and quite scary.
DAVIDPD on Sep 23, 2019
Excellent article well written and articulated. Thanks, Alex. It certainly has made me interested in seeing this film to discover how well the director was able to succeed in presenting her themes. Obedience. Ugh! More than not, most people are obedient whether it be to a person or a Nation State. The herd mentality and the false safety it provides has always been a factor of the human condition and the great writers and philosophers like Nietzsche and Sarte and Kierkegaard and Orwell have written great works about it. Freud wrote a hundred page brilliant work titled The Psychology of the Group. One really ought to read that piece to learn more of this subject as Freud nailed it. The herd mentality is everywhere and is every part of life. If someone is different and doesn't adhere to the herd they are denigrated and attacked and scorned and then excluded. Of course, anyone who has broken the chains of their collective programming want nothing to do with the group and their group thinking so they can't be excluded from something they abhor. For crissakes, just look at this comment site at how if you don't fall into the 'loving everything' that comes down the pike, even if it's embarrassing junk aimed at the masses, you are criticized and prey to rude and immature and stupid attacks because guys take criticism of something they like personally. Again, that's part of the herd mentality. As the saying goes: 'the uncritical acceptance typical of the herd mentality is the soil where all ignorance and evil take root'. You see this mentality at huge sporting events where 90 thousand people stand and place their hands over their hearts whenever they hear a certain song played because they've been programmed since childhood to do so. The are like Pavlov's dogs. Black players who knelt during the song to protest the horrible injustices many black people suffer at the hands of white cops were denigrated and verbally attacked by the mob and herd mentality idiots. The herd mentality is one of fear and requires solace in numbers and simply cannot handle the individuality in people who demonstrate the courage to stand alone with their own values and beliefs. I for sure want to see this film to see if they managed to convey with intelligence these kinds of themes. People, collectively follow and support tyrants and evil dictators and plain and obvious self centered buffoons and have through-out history. For crissakes, look who is in the high office here in America today and you'll witness this...unless you are a brain dead programmed zombie who has fallen for the con. Evil exists because the masses create it and enable it and like sheep want to be led around and patted on the head and treated like children from an authority figure telling them not to worry and they will be okay. It's the darkest part of the human condition and not likely to end any time soon. If you managed to get thru this lengthly response of mine to Alex posting this article about this film, then good for you. Nothing creates more passion in me than this subject. I shall now get off my metaphorical soap box and put it back in the corner. If you want to have an intelligent discussion on the matter please feel free to engage me. I would like nothing more. If you are angry and need to attack me then go for it and I'll just ignore you knowing you've made my point clear and there will be no need for a response. Cheers!
thespiritbo on Sep 23, 2019
Lmao a film trying to talk about patriarchy and religion is shit, what a surprise.
4chan on Sep 23, 2019
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