“Upon exiting the theater, all that I wanted to do was power lift, bellow at other men, and listen to war chants.”
The Northman – Review
Watching a Robert Eggers film is quickly becoming similar to surviving one of those “contact allowed” haunted houses. You know, the kind where the clown gets to jump out from the dark corner you swore you double-checked then run then you scream and take ahold of your pale corpse and shake you like a Doberman treats its favorite toy. Eggers does not really do subtle, and that’s awesome.
The Northman – A Brutal, Beautiful, Mythological Shakespearean Masterpiece
To say that his latest film, The Northman, is a casual watching experience is to say that a rollercoaster is relaxing. This nearly 2-and-a-half-hour epic tale of vengeance is littered with bloody battles where shirtless men that will make NFL stars feel out of shape stab, cut, beat, and impale each other while proclaiming the greatness of their chosen Norse god (I am team Odin, for sure), but that’s not to say that this film is made dumber for its brutality. However, upon exiting the theater, all that I wanted to do was power lift, bellow at other men, and listen to war chants.
In fact, Eggers manages to deliver every blow swung in this film feel damaging to you. Nothing is shown to be over-the-top for the sake of self-aware violence, rather each set piece of violence has a purpose, driven by an emotional reaction that writers Eggers and acclaimed Icelandic author Sjón hope you react to.
The Northman is Inspired by Danish Tale and the Shakespearean Play
It is this level of care that carries throughout the film and elevates the ultimately simple tale, known as the “Legend of Amleth” the supposed original inspiration for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” written sometime around 1150 C.E. by a Danish historian (Saxo Grammaticus).
The film takes up great inspiration from both the original Danish tale and Shakespeare’s play (mild spoilers as seen in the film's trailer) following at first, a young Viking Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) as he greets his father, the King Aurvendil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returning from battle with the king’s brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang) who appears jealous of his king brother’s land, power, and wife, the Queen Gudrún. You can see where this is going.
Soon young Amleth is without a father and on the run from his traitorous uncle, swearing to seek out revenge on all the wrongs that have been done. Soon after, young Amleth becomes adult Amleth, and Alexander Skarsgård’s gigantic shoulder muscles bear (pun intended) much of the weight for the rest of the film’s length.
Joining Skarsgård's shoulder muscles on their quest for vengeance is Anya Taylor-Joy, who reunites with Eggers for their second collaboration after his Hollywood debut horror hit The Witch (2015). Taylor-Joy plays the mystical druidic witch (there is a theme here) known as Olga of The Birch Wood. Together, she and Skarsgård wreak havoc on Fjönir in this classic tale of revenge, glory–and have I mentioned–upper body building.
The Northman Features Stunning Landscapes Filmed in Ireland
Setting some (never all) of my jokes aside; Eggers' latest film is in truth quite the triumph. Not all is the film beautifully shot, showcasing the stunning outer countrysides of Ireland cosplaying as Iceland but cinematographer Jarin Blaschke manages to make even the dark, torch-lit fields of fake Iceland, bathed in moonlight and the blood of stunt doubles.
The aforementioned action set pieces are allowed much welcome room to breathe and unfold. Long, single takes make up many of even the most brutal fights, giving us visual clarity often not seen (literally) in most action-laden films thanks to endless camera cuts.
The Northman Score Ivokes Mental Imagery of Viking Ships
Likewise, the composed score by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough is nothing short of an intentional, driving war tune that calls to mind images of many of the oars on a Viking ship; it is sure to impact you on some level. It is not all heavy drums and throat singing either, the score has some wonderfully soft, moving pieces that nudge you into the right emotional state in quiet moments or make you squirm with dissonant sounds with it all gets a bit macabre.
The Northman is Filled with Nods to Norse Mythology
I am happy to report, too, that a repeat viewing yielded newly discovered tidbits left like bread crumbs; filled with excellent nods to true Norse mythology (no Thor and Loki here, sorry Marvel fans) in a way that feels authentic to its timeline. In fact, that is probably the best way to summarize this film; authentic.
Eggers' latest experience, erg, I mean, the film is what I picture life was like during 895 AD in Iceland. Harsh, bloody, strangely mystical at times, beautiful in its setting, and all together daunting. Though not for everyone outright, The Northman is a captivating, often savage tale of revenge, destiny, and family. I found it to be wholly engaging and I cannot wait to see what Eggers does next.
About The Northman
Prince Amleth is on the verge of becoming a man when his father is brutally murdered by his uncle, who kidnaps the boy's mother. Two decades later, Amleth is now a Viking who raids Slavic villages. He soon meets a seeress who reminds him of his vow—save his mother, kill his uncle, avenge his father.
Rating: R, for strong bloody violence, some sexual content, and nudity
Runtime: 137 mins
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe
Adapted from: Amleth
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