The Northman is an epic, brutal film full of Shakespearean drama, Scandinavian mythology, and powerhouse performances. Robert Eggers is able to blend mysticism and revenge for a visceral, stunning experience.
While many will assume The Northman is adapted from Hamlet, the Robert Eggers film is truly based on its original source material Sjón’s ‘Gesta Danorum’. While in Hamlet, Shakespeare best adapted the source material to fit his time with elegance and melancholy, Eggers returned to a primal, gritty sense with The Northman. In the film, the spirit world and material world are one and the same. The spirit world is not only credible in the film, but a necessary component. Eggers continues to create hypnotic, brutal stories dealing with religion, the occult, and madness with The Northman.
In the start of the film, Eggers sets the stage for a primal exploration of Norse mythology. The Northman follows Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) in his quest of revenge against his uncle in a tale-as-old-as-time that is refreshed in the Eggers film. The opening of the film shows King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returning to his kingdom following a successful battle. He greets his wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) and his young son. The King has returned from war injured; he wants to ensure that his son is ready for the duties that will be bequeathed upon him following his death. What the King doesn’t know is that death will not greet him in battle, but his brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), will kill him shortly, starting a trajectory for Amleth that will consume his life with revenge.
The Northman is violent and animalistic, and stays true to the history of Vikings. It follows as Amleth, now a grown man, takes part in slaughtering villages, howling at the moon, and wearing wolf pelts. In a scene in which Amleth pillages a village, Eggers shows some career-best work as a director. The camera effortlessly guides the audience through the slaughtered village and chaos ensuing as Vikings take over while villagers try their best to flee. What we see is violent and visceral. As the Vikings are rounding up the villagers to ship off as slaves, Amleth learns that they are intended to be supplied to the farm that his uncle Fjölnir has made for himself after being overthrown by another king. He seizes this chance, branding himself as a slave to be sent to his uncle. On the journey to Fjölnir’s, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) recognizes Amleth as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but they form a strong connection that perseveres throughout the film. Olga offers Amleth a new life outside of his quest for vengeance, but he ultimately cannot join her in a life of their own.
The craftsmanship on display in Eggers’ latest film is some of his best. The production design by Craig Lathrop is meticulous and perfectly transports you to the Nordic setting within The Northman. The authenticity of all the crafts involved in the film is next level; there is no detail overlooked and everything comes together for the immersive viewing experience one comes to expect from Eggers. The sweeping cinematography by Jarin Blaschke and the editing by Louise Ford come together for a visceral, hauntingly beautiful film. Eggers co-wrote the film with Sjón and the end result is an immersive film with stunning storytelling work.
Skarsgård delivers career best work in The Northman. While he’s played a Viking before, it’s never been to this magnitude with the physical and emotional requirements of the role. The more vulnerable moments in the film truly highlight the strengths of Skarsgård as a performer. Willem Dafoe and Hawke ultimately have less screen time than most in the cast, but both leave a true impact on the film, with Dafoe bravely going anywhere asked of him as usual. Bang delivers a fierce, unforgettable performance. The best performance of the film belongs to Kidman as she holds nothing back. Kidman has not been this good in years as she delivers an unhinged performance.
The Northman honors both the beauty and horror of Nordic history. It is a brutal tale told with precision, curiosity, and respect for the history at its core. The Eggers film is a gorgeous odyssey that while brutally violent is also filled with so much heart about family.
Should be Considered: Best Sound, Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman)
Where to Watch: Peacock
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky