‘The Northman’ Review – A Savage History and Mythology Awakened

Synopsis:

Young Prince Amleth is on the cusp of becoming a man when his father is brutally murdered by his uncle, who kidnaps the boy’s mother. Fleeing his island kingdom by boat, the child vows revenge. Two decades later, Amleth is a Viking berserker raiding Slavic villages, where a seeress reminds him of his vow: avenge his father, save his mother, kill his uncle. Traveling on a slave ship to Iceland, Amleth infiltrates his uncle’s farm with the help of Olga, an enslaved Slavic woman — and sets out to honor his vow.

History can be an extremely ugly, hateful, and unsavory beast. No matter the amount of good that you find, there’s an endless feast of carnage and darkness that dims whatever light you discover. Also, in many cases, whatever evil and vile points in history you are told about, the truth is often much worse. As much as we want to believe, or are made to believe, that things weren’t as bad as they seemed in the past, the truth is the truth and should be told as it happened. The bad has to be relayed along with the good despite anyone’s feelings so we can learn from it. Once we reach acceptance, we can adjust and move on to greater things. Bad may sometimes outweigh the good, but the good still remains.

“Fear not, you are the first of many.”

Welcome to the lands of blood, valor, and vengeance. Where innocence is stripped and beards and swords are plentiful. A place where lives are rarely spared, kingdoms are taken, and honor is above all. Directed by Robert Eggers, The Northman is a savage history and mythology awakened. If you have been searching for a Viking tale of revenge, deception, fate, love, and unrelenting rage, this is the film for you. Steeped in gory battles and born out of Norse culture and mythology, The Northman is as violent as it is meticulous. Next to its beautiful cinematography, use of light, and trance-like scenes, what will stand out to many is the care that went into curating a historically accurate aesthetic and overall story. From the names and worship of the gods to the names of the characters and their actions, and their garb, I safe to say that Eggers and company did their homework while crafting this grim spectacle. 

Beginning with an ominous and attention-grabbing opening scene, the film quickly wraps its wolf pelt as it prepares you for a brutal journey. This is more than a Viking attempting to take what he wants or wanting to become a king. This is a story of revelations, transformations, and actualization. This is a film driven by pain and anger and delivered by way of enthralling storytelling. It’s raw, gritty, and dirty, and just when you get comfortable with what you think believe is going to happen, it takes a dark turn. You do have to remember to look at certain aspects of the film through a non-modern lens because there is one scene in particular that may make your skin crawl. While most of what takes place is truly grizzly in nature, there are some things that trump others, at least optically. I found the story to be in the vein as Beowulf or Oedipus Rex. I couldn’t help but find myself transported back to my college literature classes but in the best way possible. The cast delivers amazing performances, the sound really stood out to me, and the climax is hellishly glorious to behold. Oh, and Skarsgård definitely looked the part. Thor might need to step it up. Now, while the Norse history is in the details, I do wish there were more vicious and visceral battles along with the few we get. While the film looks amazing and is well-done, I didn’t walk away from it completely blown away. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth seeing. Fans, as well as experts of Norse mythology, will enjoy it. Its rewatchability is high.

Claes Bang stars as Fjölnir in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC
Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC

Pacing & Pop

This is a methodically paced film. With its focus on detail and accuracy, it may slow itself down but by then, you’re already hooked. What popped for me was the film’s glorious brutality. While I wished there was abundantly more in form of battle or hand-to-hand combat, what we get is great nonetheless.  

Nicole Kidman stars as Queen Gudrún in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC
Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth and Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC

Characters & Chemistry

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Björk

The film harbors a phenomenal ensemble cast. Alexander Skarsgård delivers a fiery rage-filled performance that explodes off the screen. Nicole Kidman is cold, mischievous, and slightly haunting. She becomes the mother of nightmares, however, when you take a step back, you can understand her position. Claes Bang is a perfect villain. He’s ruthless, calculated, and you underestimate him. Anya Taylor-Joy wows with her effortless allure and magic-like cunning. Unfortunately, we don’t get an abundance of time with Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, or Björk, but the moments we get with them are captivating.

The Northman releases in theaters on April 22, 2022. Stay safe and enjoy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Runtime: 2h 18m

Rated: R

Director: Robert Eggers

Writers: Robert Eggers, Sjón

Producers: Mark Huffam p.g.a., Lars Knudsen

Director of Photography: Jarin Blaschke

Composers: Robin Carolan, Sabastian Gainsborough

Historians: Neil Price, Terry Gunnell, Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir