“Things don’t look good.”
“We have to carry on.”
This exchange, among the few between Rams protagonists, Kiddi and Gummi, occurs as the brothers race into the blinding snow and wind in the Icelandic highlands, desperate to protect their prized sheep from slaughter and their own livelihoods from ruin. For the rams this is life vs. death, and so it is also for the brothers who until this day haven’t spoken in 40 years despite living on neighboring farms.
Set in a remote farming village in Iceland, Rams is a beautiful film – a simple and uncluttered plot and visual, written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson. Given that the main characters don’t speak to one another it’s no surprise that Hákonarson’s screenplay is short on dialogue. His film is, however, long on visuals — slow, sweeping shots of the Icelandic landscape, which speaks volumes about the brothers’ lives and life itself – vast, stunning, at times desolate, at times lush, equally harsh and beautiful.
The minimal dialogue also subtly underscores the simple reality of rural life, nature and farming: What is said or unsaid ultimately matters little in comparison to what is – what is seen, heard and touched. That in nature fate hinges on narrow margins. Likewise Rams’ plot turns on the smallest of details. A slightly thicker rump muscle is the difference between 1st and 2nd place. Two years is too long for the next generation of would-be farmers, they tell their counterparts who’ve been at it for a lifetime. The sound of rams in the basement, unimportant had it occurred one minute earlier or later than it does, critical as it forces Gummi and Kiddi to reunite and sets up the thrilling denouement in the highlands.
As for the brothers’ decades-long silence, we never learn why they stopped speaking in the first place, but in this well-crafted story that detail is irrelevant; the unspoken feels like a given, not a plot hole. While Kiddi seems motivated and fueled by his anger, Gummi appears to act out of honor and pride. Then again, who knows. And what a shame it would have been to know the origin of their estrangement for had we known we might have taken sides. Instead Rams reminds us that from a distance anger and honor look a lot alike, and that the two probably aren’t too far apart on the emotional spectrum. Different sides of the same prideful coin; in silence oblivious to how truly close they are to one another, unaware that reconciliation may be only slightly out of reach.
Reunited by necessity, not choice, Gummi and Kiddi have to act quickly and without thought. They have to talk and must work together if there’s any hope in their fight for the rams’ lives. In the end they both find themselves stripped of their stubborn pride, clinging to each another, aching for one last chance at words.