The Northman

The Northman ★★★★½

Looking at the breadth of centuries covered in Robert Eggers first three films reveals an artist of deep curiosity who uses history as his playground. From the religious hysteria giving way to feminist awakening of The VVitch to the homoerotic psychodrama chamber piece in The Lighthouse, Eggers can add Nordic vengeance tale to his idiosyncratic resume. His adaptability of style to suit the material can make him hard to pin down, but some key features in all his works are the meticulous research for period accuracy, a fascination with portraying the extremes of human nature, and a taste for surrealism. Using the original source legend that provided the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Eggers latest is a tremendous aesthetic achievement; whether it’s virtuosic single take tracking shots through the heat of battle or the outré imagery of its mystic visions, there’s almost always some outrageous stylistic flourish onscreen. Heady and intoxicating, an anachronistic detail like a flying Valkyrie wearing dental braces feels like something out of a Matthew Barney art film (can’t be a coincidence since his ex-partner Björk has a small role here). 

This immersive adventure epic offers a meditative take on revenge; going deep into the animal instincts lurking within. Despite the graphic displays of barbarity, the film doesn’t rub our faces in ultra-violence. There’s a self-awareness on the part of the filmmakers too, one that allows elements of camp to enter the frame that saves the picture from drowning in overbearing seriousness like if Alejandro González Iñárritu was at the helm (especially with its take on masculine retribution). Despite sharing the cosmic grandeur and similar setting of NWR’s Valhalla Rising, the other movie that this really brings to mind is Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. Both works were the third films from these famed indie directors that saw a significant increase in budget and by extension, studio interference. Also, both productions saw these creators greatly expand the scope of their canvases, trying to stage large scale battle sequences and explore Herzogian obsession in the wilderness of a bygone era; effectively trying to inject art-house sensibilities upon action spectacle. What both have shown is the strength of these filmmakers’ visions in trying to gain access into more mainstream recognition. Fiercely original, it’ll be exciting to see where Robert Eggers goes from here.

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