The Northman

The Northman ★★★½

A nihilistic death march through fate's grinding gears, like a feature length adaptation of that Thomas Hobbes quote about unguided human life being "nasty, brutish, and short". This may be the least modern spectacle film ever made, an ultra-macho murder fantasia shot through with the dirty, angry feel of life in the pre-Renaissance age. I'm torn between my admiration for Eggers' precise aesthetic control (all those slow methodical push-ins, all that ugly, dark natural light, shamans and rituals and muddy violence lit by flaring bonfire embers and grey moonlight whose shadows feel as if they could twist into some new mythological horror at any moment) and how exhausting I found it in practice. It's undoubtedly a vision, though not one that changes much as it goes; it's a film less like watching a blacksmith forge something brand new and more like having a historian explain the intricacies and value of an old weapon right before they bludgeon you to death with it. That said, I admire its stubborn non-psychological bent and how that feeds into the mythic grandeur of the thing, how it uses Kidman and Taylor-Joy to subtly undermine Amleth and his violence-incarnate fanaticism while tacitly admitting that early Norse society still ran on a bloody wheel of men like him grinding one another up (that ending! Eat your heart out, Star Wars lava duel), how it seamlessly integrates its mad visions of thirsty zombie swords and feathered Bjorks and deus-ex-crows following Odin's bloody bidding into its solemn parade of dread and destruction. I'm relatively certain there won't be another film both this expensive and this committed to its own internal logic this year. I'm also relatively certain I'm fine with that.

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