Release Date: April 22, 2022
Director: Robert Eggers
Production Company: Regency Enterprises | Perfect World Pictures | New Regency | Square Peg
Robert Eggers first two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, are among my all-time favorite movies, so when I heard he was making a movie based in Norse legend it immediately became one of my anticipated films. Well, it wasn’t worth the wait. The Northman is a straight up revenge story with unhealthy doses of toxic masculinity and aspects of torture porn and slasher films. Granted, all the reviews for the movie are positive, so this may just not be my thing, but I much prefer moody psychological dramas about people in New England dealing poorly with isolation.
Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth, a Viking warrior whose sole goal in life is to avenge the murder of his father. As a child, Amleth witnessed his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) murder his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) and abduct his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). If this plot reminds you of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (or Disney’s The Lion King), well, the legend of Amleth was a direct inspiration. Learning that Fjölnir lost his kingdom in a war and is now living in exile on Iceland, Amleth disguises himself as a slave and joins a ship of captives being shipped to Iceland. Along the journey he meets Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), a fellow enslaved person, and they become co-conspirators and romantic partners.
Much like Hamlet, there are times when Amleth can carry out his revenge but fails to act due to his faith in a prophecy which only serves to stretch out the movie. There are times when Amleth seems like he might question the whole vengeance thing and follow a more interesting path, but immediately reverts to the rote cliches of the revenge narrative. Honestly, I found the stakes of Amleth’s revenge get lower and lower as the story went along which just made it kind of sad.
Despite not liking much of The Northman, it is striking to look at, and Eggers maintains a unique directorial touch. I thought Taylor-Joy’s performance was particularly strong and wished her character got more to do than be the romantic interest of the protagonist (actually, The Northman told from Olga’s point of view would be a much more interesting story). Willem Dafoe has a memorable small part as a rude jester (who makes rude gestures) named Heimir and musician Björk makes a brief appearance as a Seerees.