From Robert Eggers, the incredible filmmaker behind The Witch and The Lighthouse, comes a different kind of movie that displays more of what makes Eggers an impressive auteur. Based on the Viking tale of Amleth, a story which later inspired Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, The Northman is definitely a theatrical experience that goes to dark places that are exciting, visceral, and immersive. Like Hamlet, and the myth which inspires the movie, the film presents a tale of revenge amidst a troubled prominent family of considerable power. Never, ever, have I seen such a bleak and haunting portrayal of hatefilled vengeance that is so absolutely incredible that I cannot wait to experience again, despite the fact that the movie left me feeling so down.
In the year 895, the child prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) witnesses the assassination of his father King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) at the sword and hands of his Uncle Fjölnir (Clare Bangs). As his uncle and his uncle’s warriors set their sites on him next, he manages to flee his home island and take to the sea to destinations unknown. Many years later, the adult Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) has become a ruthless and black-hearted berserker warrior for a group of Vikings. During one of their conquests, he discovers that his uncle, mother and their children are currently living in exile in Iceland. Armed with this information, his experience as a formidable warrior, and a heart filled with hate and vengeance, Amleth proceeds to fulfill his destiny.
Written and directed by Robert Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with artist Sjón, The Northman is an amazing period masterpiece that transcends genres. Eggers and Sjón superbly blend Shakespearian drama, graphic, visceral violence, and darkly horrific imagery to create an incredible film that is an cinematic experience that is sure to be admired and lauded for many years to come. With gorgeous cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, exquisite editing by Louise Ford, and the gorgeous score by both Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough, The Northman proves to be Eggers’ most exceptional film so far.
Eggers could not have pulled off this feat without the extraordinary performances by his cast. Everyone in this movie definitely understood their assignments, but it is Nicole Kidman, who absolutely shines the brightest. Her fascinating and layered turn as Amleth’s mother Queen Gudrún proves to be the biggest surprise in the movie. I cannot elaborate exactly why, as I cannot spoil too much of the movie, but trust me when I say her performance is the one that should deserve the most recognition.
I was also dazzled by the remarkable turn by Anya Taylor-Joy as slave and Amleth’s love interest Olga, a Slavic sorceress. As the lead Amleth, Skarsgård brings the perfect fiery brute prowess and anger to the role. Though the character initially seems one-noted, the movie’s development of his character manages to make his character much more interesting and compelling in the end. The movie also features tremendous performances by Willem Dafoe, Clare Bangs, Ethan Hawke, Gutav Lindh, Bjork, and several others.
Now, even though The Northman is not feel good cinema by any stretch, it is still a phenomenal experience that shows Eggers talent at his best so far. I cannot wait to see what the filmmaker will do next, but I can guarantee I will be there excitedly, with the expectations that he can deliver another noteworthy cinematic journey.