The Northman is Robert Eggers’ third feature film, following in the daunting footsteps of The Witch and The Lighthouse. Like his previous movies, The Northman delivers the creepy and uneasy experience in the usual Eggers style, but on a much larger scale.
The film takes place in the thrilling world of Viking epic. The tremendous battles, as well as the historically accurate and intricate set designs bring a level of realism that sits as a framework for Eggers’ to implement his mythological and Shakespearian tale.
The film follows Amelth (Alex Skarsgård) on his quest to claim vengeance for the murder of his father, King Aurvandil. Through intense battles and mystical magic, the film reaches its dramatic climax and blurs the line between protagonist and antagonist.
Clearly influenced by the work of Shakespeare, namely Hamlet, it doesn’t attempt to directly adapt the famous revenge tragedy and instead opts to merge all sorts of references to Macbeth, Oedipus Rex and viking mythology in its extremely layered texture. With scenes of graphic fatality, it’s hard to see how this film only makes the rating of a 15. Be wary if you’re the squeamish kind.
Like many of the historically fictitious epics from the 60s, such as Laurence of Arabia and Spartacus, the film doesn’t shy away from doing things on a large scale. One scene shows a huge viking raid, with ruthless killers taking a village from innocent townsfolk, a sequence supposedly filmed in a single shot.
The all-star line-up includes some of Eggers’ previous collaborators such as Willem Defoe, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Ralph Ineson, as well as a largely Scandinavian cast including Alex Skarsgård, and Icelandic artist Björk. The film also stars Nicole Kidman, as Amleth’s mother, and Ethan Hawke as Amleth’s father. Although these may seem like unusual picks, they bring a level of grit and Hollywood acumen to the roles that are bound to have a strong effect on audiences.
To add to the unbelievable story and cast, the cinematography is incredible. The large, intricate sets and the beautiful scenery of Iceland is an amazing backdrop for Eggers to tell his tale. The cinematographer, Jarin Blaschke, worked with Eggers on both his previous films and it shows with consistency to the cinematography, something we now associate as an ‘Eggers style’.
The music in this movie was unlike anything used before for a film of this setting. The composers, Robert Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough, had an undeniable challenge to create a score that matched its tone and pace. How could they mirror the hardship, the dirt, and the violence of the movie? The film has an intensive rhythm that would need to be matched for it to work. Apparently they worked tirelessly throughout lockdown to that the music could truly reach its unsettling and nightmarish melody.
The Northman is definitely worth the watch. Although some may find scenes disturbing at times, don’t shy away from viewing this cinematic masterpiece. The cinematography, music, actors, and the story itself all come together to create an amazing cinema experience.