To know director Robert Eggers is to know a remarkable master of light, sound, and storytelling all wrapped up in a single film. 2019’s The Lighthouse broke rules when it came to how a simple story could turn into a visual stunner for the senses. With Eggers’s latest, The Northman, the American director takes audiences through a forgotten time of valkyries, vikings, and revenge…which is definitely a dish served very very cold.
The Northman stars Alexander Skarsgard as Amleth, a viking prince on a journey to avenge his father’s death and save his mother from the hands of his evil uncle. Sound familiar? It should, as it is the same basic plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Disney’s The Lion King. Similarities aside, The Northman proves to be a standalone film that is a cut above the rest.
We start with a young Amleth in 895 AD, traversing his life in the North Atlantic with his father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) and his mother, Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman). Their kingdom is a snow covered wonderland, where the King is always tasked with the ungodly chore of battling others to keep his family and kingdom safe. Unfortunately for the King, the true evil comes from within his own family, as his only brother, Fjolnir (Claes Bang), plots against him to take over the kingdom. While witnessing the death of his father at the hands of his uncle in a torturous ambush, young Amleth flees his homeland uttering his creed to himself, “I will avenge you father, I will save you mother, I will kill you Fjolnir.”
We cut to a much older, and hot as fuck, Amleth, who is a true viking in an animalistic society where he helps to destroy towns and take others as his prisoner. Fit and full of rage, Amleth is the definition of strength on the outside, while wrestling with demons of hate on the inside. Still intending to follow through with his promise to his father and mother, Amleth hears rumors of his uncle’s whereabouts, and sets off on a plan to finally take what is rightfully his.
Boarding a slave ship as a stowaway, Amleth meets the incredibly beautiful Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), who agrees to become his most trusted ally throughout his quest. As the slave ship docks in Iceland, Amleth quickly discovers his uncle and mother, as well as their two children, have taken over this new land as they were dethrowned by others in Amleth’s original kingdom. Disguising himself as a slave and unrecognizable in his older years, he attempts to gain the trust of his uncle, before he plans to wield a sword into his father’s killer.
The Northman is an incredibly gifted film full of hostility, genealogy, strength, and desire. Alexander Skarsgard is picture perfect as Amleth, a man with one solitary vision for how his life should go, based upon the dreams of his father. Anya Taylor-Joy is ferociously talented as Amleth’s ally and love interest, while Claes Bang gives a truly horrifying performance as the main villain. The only drawback to the film’s success is Kidman’s casting, as it brings memories of when Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell were cast as the mother/son duo in Alexander. Kidman and the twist in the middle of the film go hand in hand, but it would’ve been preferable to have cast an actress that didn’t just play Skarsgard’s battered wife in a famous series, Big Little Lies.
Without giving away too much more, Eggers’s use of light, darkness, and stunning cinematography by Jarin Blaschke should be reason enough for anyone to see this film.
Ticket rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟