“The Northman”: a visceral and mystical Nordic tragedy

Vikings with muscles covered in a thick layer of hemoglobin. Hallucinated visions mixing psychotropics and paganism. Heroes guided by a destiny whose name is vengeance. This is the journey that director Robert Eggers offers us in his new film The Northman.

After exploring the myth of the witch in early settler America with the excellent The Witch which revealed its star Anya Taylor-Joy (Le Jeu de la Dame) and the black and white horror thriller The Lighthousewith Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, the director takes us on a journey through Scandinavian legends.

We are in the tenth century. Young Prince Amleth sees his father (played by Ethan Hawke) murdered before his eyes by his uncle. Threatened with death by the traitors, the young prince flees his kingdom and abandons his mother. Blinded by rage and fear, the child swears to save the latter, played by Nicole Kidman, to avenge his father and to kill the fratricidal Fjölnir (Claes Bang) with his hands.

A brutal and disturbing fable

The feature film oscillates cleverly between the historical film which attempts a faithful reproduction of the time and the legendary story. Quite quickly, we understand that Robert Eggers chose the creative comfort of the legend to tell his story. This setting allows him to have fun with voices from beyond the grave, visions of shamans, special effects and supernatural elements many more than in his previous works. Don’t expect a fantasy movie with special effects. Everything remains extremely subtle, almost realistic. But the border between madness and the supernatural is probably less fine than in a film like The Witch where only the final plan gave us to see “real magic”.

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If we ask ourselves fewer questions about the mental state of the characters, the latter, embodied by an impressive panoply of immense actors, remain at the heart of the film. Alexander Skarsgard, all muscle and resolve, embodies adult Amleth. A man shaped by war and the barbarism of the clans of the time. Like a heroa Greek tragedy or a play by ShakespeareAmleth (a nod to Hamlet certainly) and his ability or not to flee the destiny traced by his parents and the gods is the common thread (blood) of this film. The other characters are all secondary. But that doesn’t prevent them from having a strong impact on the film.

A visual spectacle that haunts you

Nicole Kidman, plays Queen Gudrun. A fiercely protective mother but also mysterious, cold and whose ambitions remain secret for a long time. The director takes full advantage of the dramatic force of his interpreter. Same thing with the other strong woman of the film, Olga played by Anya Taylor Joy. A combative and above all cunning woman who is an immense manipulator in this world dominated by the brute force of men.
Willem Dafoe and Bjork, they embody the spiritual world of the film. Diviners whose voices and apparitions guide our hero. We are not surprised to find them in these roles but we must admit that their hallucinated faces are perfect for the exercise.

Besides the story that draws on the great millennial stories of humanity with themes like justice, revenge, fate, love or honor, fans of stylized action will enjoy The Northman for the visual spectacle that he offers. Bloody battles, morbid visions, sublime and desolate natural settings… The Northman remains a pleasure for the (well-informed) eyes, except perhaps when the director gratifies us with his genealogical tree in computer-generated images, the only false note in a composition that absorbs us from the very first images. Series fans like Vikings, Rome, Game of Thrones in certain aspects or American Gods will find their account there. We even find certain visual aspects of a 300 by Zack Snyder or more recent The king or The Green Knight in this legendary approach to the Middle Ages.

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The Northman remains a raw experience that grabs you. A work that is both very singular and which achieves the feat of being, through its universe, terribly fashionable and in tune with the desires of today’s general public. Robert Eggers thus continues to build a very identified filmography which will not fail to remain. After his witch, his lighthouse keepers and now his viking, we can’t wait to find out about his next project…

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“The Northman”: a visceral and mystical Nordic tragedy

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