The Northman… How do you even begin to discuss and dissect a movie such as this one? It’s a wild Shakespearian Viking tale of revenge; but to summarize The Northman in so few words detracts from the magnitude of this film. It is epic, in every meaning of the word. Filmmaker Robert Eggers has earned a reputation within the film community as an auteur to be watched. His earlier films, The VVitch and The Lighthouse, push the boundaries of traditional storytelling norms by taking their characters to the edge of sanity and daring audiences to try and follow along. The Northman continues this trend, and by the end of it all, I found myself trying to catch my breath, trying to comprehend everything I’d just experienced and already eager for a second viewing.
Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is a Viking prince and heir to the throne. However, that title is ripped from him when his father (Ethan Hawke) is murdered in front of him as a child. Amleth goes into hiding and patiently awaits the day that vengeance can be delivered and he can free his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), from the murderous clutches of her captor. He repeats the mantra over and over again. I will avenge you, Father. I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.
The Northman is certainly Eggers most accessible film. With a budget of 90 Million, it’s by far his most expensive, as well. For comparison, The VVitch had a budget of 4 million, and The Lighthouse had a budget of 11 million. However, general going audiences may find themselves in for an experience that doesn’t quite line up with their expectations. The Northman is a wild mash up of a film; mixing elements of an arthouse exploration into violence, manhood and retribution with a blockbuster actioner. It quickly climbs to the heights of an epic adventure and dangles there for two hours. Just like Amleth, The Northman is unrelenting, undeterred and covered in blood.
Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night In Soho), returns to work with Eggers for the first time since The VVitch. At the time of that film’s release (2015), she was relatively unknown; however, her star power has sky rocketed in the years since. Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke and the entirety of the cast assist in selling the story. Each of them delivering performances that vary from their traditional roles. But it’s Skarsgård, as the titular Northman, who perfectly balances the intensity and the sincerity needed to carry the film. He delivers his lines with a raw emotion that is, at times, scary. Like an injured dog backed into a corner, the piercing glare of his eyes and the deep gargled roar of his scream broadcast the anger in his heart.
The Northman is a tale as old as time. Vengeance, power, greed. These have been the driving themes in storytelling since before film existed. But Robert Eggers brings a unique style to the story of Amleth and his quest for retribution. The choreography is as beautiful as it is brutal. And that’s the line that The Northman treads throughout. Beauty and brutality, blurred until the two become one epic adventure that demands to be experienced on the big screen. 9/10