Photo: ‘The Northman’
‘The Northman,’ is a new Viking epic directed by Robert Eggers which portrays a visceral and animalistic side to the violence of Viking culture. This film which covers an overarching tale of revenge is much more than a tale of vengeance. ‘The Northman,’ visually entrusts itself with the accurate depiction of not just the realism of this period of time, but also how mythology and fantasy represented a large aspect of this cultures’ beliefs. ‘The Northman,’ while at times, is hauntingly ultra-realistic, it is essentially expressionistic with how it chooses to represent the story of the life and experiences of Prince Amleth.
This level of theatricality does not take away from the viewer’s interest in this grand epic, but rather shows Eggers’s skillful understanding of filmmaking as well as his knowledge of Viking culture. This expressionism perfectly depicts the tale of ‘The Northman,’ as if it were recounted through the voice of an actual Viking and pays direct homage to the culture that it so masterfully illustrates. ‘The Northman,’ is a film set in a brutal world and while it may not be a film for the faint of heart, it does accurately and adeptly capture the cold-hearted world of Vikings.
A Film Uncensored Towards The Brutalities of Viking Culture
‘The Northman,’ from its very beginning is a film that imbues itself with a level of violence and brutality that is emblematic of Viking history. Viking culture is one that historically has produced some of the most fearsome warriors due to the fact that they believed that one must die bravely in battle, fighting to their last breath to reach Valhalla, their spiritual paradise, to be able to feast and live forever with the Gods and humanity’s fallen ancestors. ‘The Northman,’ depicts the reality of this brutality in a way in which it does not bar itself from portraying the ruthlessness and savagery of the violence that humans inflicted upon each other. ‘The Northman,’ depicts life in the Viking era as cold and uncaring where much of human existence was predicated on the ability to conquer and claim (by force) what was desired. In one part of ‘The Northman,’ the invading force to a stronghold enslaves the women and places all surviving men and boys in a hut which they light on fire, killing all those who remain inside.
Full Commentary on ‘The Northman’
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‘The Northman,’ is one of the first films to contain this level of horrifying accuracy in covering the intentions of a conquering force. The reason why all the men and boys were murdered was that the invading party would prefer to mercilessly slaughter all those they deemed “capable” of seeking revenge, rather than allow them to live and one day reap the consequences for their horrific actions. The truth of this aspect of history is a bleak and sorrowful one, but it essentially speaks to the barbarity of the existence of humans and Vikings. Before humans could live civilly, with a governing body ensuring rights and freedoms, humans acted with selfishness and cruelty, using force and violence to take whatever they desired and thought was rightfully theirs.
‘The Northman’: An Experimental Film That Combines Reality with Fantasy
‘The Northman,’ includes various aspects which contain fantastical interpretations. This relation to the fantastical essentially pays tribute to the history of Norse mythology and religion. ‘The Northman,’ pays intentional homage to this large part of Viking life and existence. Many aspects of Viking culture and their systems of belief are embodied in the film’s structure with an experimental form. This tie to the fantastical is portrayed as hallucinations and visions, making the viewer feel as if one is participating in the nightmarish fever dreams that the characters are dragged into. These expressionistic aspects of the film are incorporated in such a way that they are melded together into the story, making them as much a part of reality as the actual events that occur within the plot. In this way, reality and the fantastical are blended together creating a grand theatrical epic that represents embellishment as an important and even necessary characteristic of how the story is woven.
For such a film as, ‘The Northman,’ which ingrains itself with the highest order and representation of realism, it is understandable to think that the employment of fantasy would take away from the viewer’s appreciation and their belief that what they are watching is realistic or “true.” That belief or thought could not be further from the truth. ‘The Northman,’ by imbuing its portrayal of reality with the fantasy and mythology of the character’s tale, essentially connects to the rich history it aims to depict. By implementing its ultra-realism with an experimental level of the fantastical it becomes, overall, a more expressionistic film that intends to illustrate the state of mind of the characters as well as the harsh realities that they face.
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Does Fate Determine One’s Destiny?
‘The Northman,’ is a film that thematically ties itself to the ideal of one’s fate. In ‘The Northman,’ fate is something that no person can escape. From the beginning of the film, the main character, Prince Amleth, is forced to swear an oath which ends up sealing his fate forever. Even when he attempts to escape his destiny there are always events in the film that end up bringing him back to the path that life has seemingly “chosen” for him. This idea of fate is a dictating aspect in Norse religion and many religions in general. ‘The Northman,’ utilizes this tie to the culture of Vikings as a fundamental basis for how the storyline unfolds. This film covers the same story that was the inspiration for the Shakespearean tale ‘Hamlet.’ Much of ‘The Northman,’ represents the same themes and stylistic traits as this play by Shakespeare.
In the end, none of Shakespeare’s characters can escape their outlying destiny similar to Prince Amleth in ‘The Northman.’ The cards of life have been cast and no matter how hard these characters may struggle against the certainty of their fate they are always brought back to fulfill a higher calling. ‘The Northman,’ is essentially a tale of revenge, and as the old adage goes, when one seeks a life of revenge, it is better to dig two graves. ‘The Northman,’ is centered around this proverb, and to its own credit and to the benefit of the viewer it fulfills this tale of revenge in an unusual and experimental way that categorizes it as distinctly innovative.
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Gustav Lindh, Elliott Rose, Willem Dafoe, Phill Martin, Eldar Skar, Olwen Fouéré, Edgar Abram, Jack Gassmann, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Oscar Novak, Jack Walsh, Björk, Ian Whyte, Katie Pattinson
By Thomas Jacobs
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Thomas Jacobs is an avid writer, Cinema aficionado, and filmmaker. He graduated with Dean’s Honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a major in Film and Digital Media. His passion is directly tied to the appreciation and creation of film and television, and this fact is reflected in his intent to be a writer for the acclaimed entertainment journal, The Hollywood Insider. His beliefs mirror the core goals and mission statement of The Hollywood Insider by sharing an admiration for quality entertainment as well as bolstering a sense of positivity and equality among all humans. Thomas believes that Cinema is an advantageous promoter of civil and social empowerment, and he shares a mutual societal view with The Hollywood Insider, that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.