The Northman

The Northman ★★★★½

“Hate is all I’ve ever known.”

I know there are those who will hate this film with a passion, and what reasons why. But to me, this is a pure masterpiece and a nice homage to Hamlet. It’s a more than two hour long film. But there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t following along. The theme of revenge and how it can destroy your soul is perfectly encapsulated into this historical drama and protagonist, making me feel similarly to how I did when I saw Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven

The details alone from the beautiful locations (ICELAND HELLO!) to the cultural rituals (longboat funeral/sacrifices, extremely detailed references to the gods), and the deep dive into Norse martial values, by extension “man in his most animalistic nature” thoroughly resonated with me. Really goes to show how different a time and culture it was as shown through the important themes of legacy, fate, revenge, and ceaseless bloodshed. What’s more, Eggers hides nothing and just shows everything as it was. No cover ups. As for the romantic element, it really adds to the stakes and made me root for both Amleth and Olga to escape. The plot point of Nicole Kidman’s betrayal was also a great plot point that directly affected the protagonist. 

The only elements that stuck out to me were Amleth and his father’s relationship (played by Ethan Hawke). Hawke’s role is so crucial but his screen time is so minimal that I was taken out of the story when he was so quickly killed off early on. I felt we missed a beat where we needed to fall in love with their father-son dynamic other than just the coming of age ritual. It would have also helped the revenge arc of the story deliver, thus making Amleth’s mother’s betrayal hurt even more. Sure was surprised though! We have some Sophocles shit taking place!

Now to the technicals: The use of VFX with the Tree are astounding. The cinematography and editing are defined by the movie’s tone of gritty violence and the makers just showing things as they are. The result being frequent hard cuts, beautiful use of moon and firelight, and long takes. The moving camera used in the massacre of the town sequence, in particular, was powerful and reminded me of moments from Andrei Rublev or Come and See. I doubt Eggers wasn’t inspired by those pieces… as we all are. Other moments like the Valkyrie scenes, the montage showing the sword’s backstory, Olga invoking on the ship  - they all took my breath away. Eggers truly masters the blend between realism, the mystical and fantastical.

All in all, my favorite film of the year, and in terms of newer historical dramas it’s up there. Here’s to more historical dramas in the future. That said, Last Duel still takes the win. Starting to warm up to Anya Taylor Joy.

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