“The Northman”: grueling and immersive


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Grace Sherban reviews Robert Eggers’ “The Northman.”

Grace Sherban, Assistant Arts & Life Editor

The acclaimed auteur filmmaker Robbert Eggers’ newest film “The Northman” is his follow up to his critically-acclaimed 2019 arthouse favorite “The Lighthouse” which premiered in 2019. Eggers leaves behind the black and white cinematography and in favor of a sweeping Viking epic that journeys across Iceland. 

The film follows Prince Amleth, played by Alexander Skarsgård, after he witnesses his uncle murder his father and kidnap his mother. Amleth grows into a viking warrior and fate leads him to exact revenge on his uncle and save his mother, played by Nicole Kidman. During his quest to avenge his father, he falls in love with Olga, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, and discovers the truth and cost of his revenge. 

With this film running less than two and a half hours, there were certain points in the story that tended to drag on for an unnecessary amount of time. The action sequences were interesting to watch, specifically the long shot of Amleth raiding a village, and were essential in developing his character arc. Despite this, viewers not interested in graphic depictions of brutality may be alienated by the gore and overall screen time devoted to violence.

The lasting legacy of this film, besides being an addition to Eggers’ filmography, will be its epic production design and use of location. COVID-19 restrictions forced the movie to shoot in Ireland instead of Iceland, where the story actually takes place. Despite this limitation, the grandeur of each location from the beaches and valleys to the small villages and huts, the viewer is immersed in the world Eggers tediously creates. 

Skarsgård, best known for his villainous role in the series “Big Little Lies” and live-action Tarzan portrayal, completely transformed his body and submerged himself in the task of becoming a viking. His commitment to the physical aspects of the role elevate the film but sometimes he internalized his hulking appearance and it was distracting in the delivery of his dialogue at certain moments. 

Taylor-Joy and Kidman give two contrasting performances that ultimately elevate not just Skarsgård’s performance but the film as a whole. The nuances they add to their characters are satisfying and their final appearances on screen are both highlights of the film.

Overall, “The Northman” provides a visceral theater going experience that fans of the action genre or Icelandic folklore can enjoy. Despite the hype surrounding the film, Variety reported that the movie earned $12 million during open weekend on a budget disputed to be between $70 to $90 million. Eggers makes movies that appeal to fans of arthouse filmmaking and his attempt at a successful blockbuster is still being determined. “The Northman” is currently playing in theaters only.