The Northman Movie Review

The Northman

Characterizing The Northman Movie as director Robert Eggers’ most approachable film could be misleading. In contrast to the filmmaker’s earlier endeavors—such as the austere visions of “The Witch” and the desolate, almost fetishistic portrayal of mermaids in “The Lighthouse”—which delved into conventional yet peculiar facets of American folklore, this new creation forges a connection with those intriguing tendencies, albeit with a somewhat reduced impact. The film requires that its audience disassembles prevailing oppressive patriarchal norms, the dangerous allure of toxic masculinity, and the futility inherent in pursuing vengeance. By channeling an intense dedication to familial honor, Eggers compels viewers to contemplate these themes. In “The Northman,” his distinctive approach to jolting the psyche exhibits a heightened audacity compared to his earlier works, manifesting potently in intermittent bursts. However, it becomes evident that audacity alone does not invariably guarantee success.

Upon the debut of The Witcher Movie Eggers introduced a distinctive strain of horror characterized, albeit subtly, as “elevated.” This visionary filmmaker from New England shattered genre conventions, imbuing his narratives with a fearless fascination for the macabre that ingeniously explored the boundaries of auditory and visual expressions within supernatural dread.

In his latest opus, “The Northman,” Eggers employs a refined artistic sensibility accompanied by heightened emotional resonances, all unfolding across a vast cinematic canvas. Within this grand tapestry, he deftly weaves his signature intrigue into the enigmatic elements that thread through ancient mythologies. The narrative follows Amleth (portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård), a formidable Viking prince consumed by righteous fury, on his quest for retribution after a kingdom’s tragic usurpation in the Nordic realms.

This timeless legend, recognized by contemporary audiences through its well-regarded English iteration as “Hamlet,” beckons us to remember the unwavering determination of Amleth—a figure as stubborn as the unrelenting terrain he traverses—as he endeavors to reclaim his wrongfully seized throne.

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In “The Northman,” the conventional hero’s journey takes an intriguing twist, delving into a world far removed from the customary regal narratives. Amleth, our central figure, emerges not as the archetypal dashing royal but as a product of an unforgiving epoch where survival hinges on a stark code of kill-or-be-killed. This era, characterized by an intrinsic reverence for death by the blade, shapes the very essence of kingship.

Amleth’s father, King Aurvandill, portrayed with gravitas by Ethan Hawke, returns from the ravages of warfare bearing both physical scars and profound adherence to this brutal reality. In a scene evoking primal power, he instills within his young son the inevitability of bloodshed through a visceral rite performed in an ethereal, smoky cavern. This arcane ritual, overseen by the enigmatic Heimir the Fool, enacted by the mesmerizing Willem Dafoe, conjures ancestral spirits. Within this mystic ambiance, Amleth and Aurvandill unleash primal cries akin to wolves, encapsulating the essence of humanity as primal beings wrapped in fragile human forms.

The thematic tapestry of “The Northman” revolves around elemental instincts and primal obligations. The fundamental duty to avenge one’s father and shield one’s lineage and realm assumes a paramount significance. This duty binds Amleth, his mother, Queen Gudrún, a compelling embodiment by Nicole Kidman, and clashes against his formidable uncle, the imposing and dark-bearded Fjölnir, masterfully portrayed by Claes Bang. Fjölnir’s audacious transgression against these primal oaths thrusts young Amleth into an odyssey spanning distant horizons, ultimately forging him into a hardened warrior, his bitterness matched only by his formidable strength.

In this narrative paradigm, “The Northman” unfurls as a cinematic journey that probes existence’s raw, animalistic core. Beyond the trappings of royalty and civilization lies a world where survival depends on the most primal of impulses—where honor is etched in the language of blades and lineage. As Amleth’s saga unfurls, audiences are beckoned into a mesmerizing tapestry of primal instincts and regal legacy, each thread woven with the mastery that defines this riveting saga.

The film extensively utilizes the creative collaboration of Jarin Blaschke, the cinematographer, and Louise Ford, the editor, who have previously partnered with Eggers on projects like “The Lighthouse” and “The Witch.” This cinematic masterpiece distinguishes itself with its refined visual artistry, showcasing a departure from the director’s typical style by incorporating heightened camera movement.

A particularly intense sequence ensues, featuring the protagonist Amleth alongside a tribe of Vikings adorned in primal bear-pelt headdresses. Under Ford’s meticulous editing, the scene unfolds with razor-sharp precision, depicting the marauding group systematically pillaging a village in a brutal display. The complexity of the shot is matched by the camera’s insatiable craving for visceral imagery, capturing figures drenched in the crimson hue of blood. The chillingly primal roars of these relentless warriors reverberate, immersing the audience in a world of unrelenting masculinity.

A poignant moment within this sequence, reminiscent of Elem Klimov’s profound antiwar film “Come and See,” presents a burning dwelling wherein anguished villagers emit mournful cries. Against this backdrop, Amleth gazes unflinchingly into the camera, diverging from Klimov’s portrayal of a youth scarred by the horrors of warfare. Instead, this character embodies a savage and stubborn man, his spirit stoked by the fires of conflict and brutality.

“The Northman” is a cinematic marvel where even the earth’s mud simmers with untamed fury. The film immerses its audience in a visceral experience, skillfully weaving connections to the primal and shadowy facets of existence—be they rooted in the animalistic, elemental forces, or the most unforgiving realm of all, the human psyche. These themes pulsate throughout, harmonizing with Eggers’ distinct auditory landscapes, underscored by the haunting melodies crafted by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough. Through ambient reverberations and gradual decay, the film’s soundscape harks back to the very origins of existence.

The film’s enigmatic dream sequences, each a hypnotic voyage, aspire to touch upon similar archaic impulses. The exceptional visual effects team breathes life into Amleth’s ancestral lineage—an ever-evolving representation of divine sovereignty—depicting it as a radiant cerulean fern that extends from his heart, intertwining with our own. Amidst this intricate tapestry, one finds the remarkable thread of “The Northman” itself, a tapestry wherein Björk’s portrayal of a sightless oracle propels Amleth towards a sword possessing an edge that knows no dullness, driven by an insatiable thirst for mortality.

In essence, “The Northman” unfolds as an intricate cinematic tableau, masterfully entwining myriad magical strands, occasionally becoming tangled, much like the complex narrative it unfurls. It’s a world in which even the mud seems to seethe with pent-up fervor, encapsulating a primordial force that reverberates profoundly, leaving an indelible mark upon the senses and the soul.

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David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” may present an immediate parallel, yet “The Northman” distinguishes itself by evoking a unique emotional landscape. The narrative delves into the depths of unbridled ambition, threading its way toward morally ambiguous outcomes within a society that esteems such adaptability. Within this intricate tapestry, flawed characters navigate their actions under the guise of righteousness, fueled by a virtuous fury embodied by Amleth. Against a backdrop that has pruned away expressions of male vulnerability, Alexander Skarsgård channels this suppressed emotional turmoil into a palpable and seething wrath.

The film paints a relationship between Amleth and Olga, portrayed by the reunited talents of Anya Taylor-Joy and Eggers. Their romance, however, forgoes conventional tenderness, manifesting love through tangible acts and transforming the erotic into reality, wherein the embodiment of passionate rage takes precedence through violent deeds. Amleth’s valiant efforts are punctuated by the sweep of his blade as he unflinchingly confronts challenges.

In this period piece, brimming with outright eccentricity and playfully suggestive innuendos, the performances of Skarsgård, Taylor-Joy, and particularly Kidman stand as exemplars of unwavering commitment. “The Northman” weaves a narrative that seamlessly melds the absurd and the profound, offering a canvas where dedicated portrayals converge with whimsical dialogue, creating an enthralling and captivating cinematic experience.

In its pursuit of profundity, “The Northman” occasionally falters, revealing a nuanced exploration that often hovers just beneath the narrative surface. Collaboratively penned by Eggers and the accomplished poet-novelist Sjón (“Lamb”), the film aspires to dissect the role of women within the context of mythological sagas. However, this thematic thread frequently remains untethered, only lightly brushing against established genre conventions rather than fully upending them.

Regrettably, the film’s final act becomes laborious, compounded by false conclusions seemingly striving for a poetic crescendo. The climactic confrontation between the characters Fjölnir and Amleth, set against the dramatic backdrop of a volcanic abyss, paradoxically loses some of its anticipated impact. Although this sequence ostensibly seeks to expound on the complexities of the hero’s odyssey and the weight of fulfilling destiny, regardless of the ensuing ramifications, its essence becomes somewhat diluted amidst the overly emphasized turmoil of molten chaos.

This vivid Viking saga resonates in the sum of its parts rather than in a cohesive narrative. Nevertheless, these individual components are undeniably captivating and meticulously crafted to achieve a vibrant and committed impact that ultimately enhances the film’s entirety. It becomes difficult to raise objections to the Valkyries’ abundant presence or dismiss the glamorous and enigmatic instances of sorcery; indeed, such elements are precisely where the film’s charm lies. “The Northman” evokes a sense of appreciation for its mere existence, even if one’s contentment with it remains somewhat nuanced.