The Northman

The Northman ★★½

''This is the last tear you will shed in weakness.''

The problem with Robert Eggers' filmmaking is that it's all just influence without interpretation. Shots and imagery are taken from the films he likes and filtered through a homogenising prestige-indie lens, without any consideration for why those shots were used, and/or what made them worth using in the first place.
Eggers seems to want to sit at the intersection between Bergman, Malick, Tarkovsky, and Herzog, and thinks the way to do this is to appropriate their aesthetics wholesale, stripping them of context and using them purely as empty, atomised visual elements.
The problem with doing that is each of these directors used their filmmaking styles to not only create beautiful images, but to create cohesive images inside cohesive films.
Each of Eggers' inspirations has preoccupations and themes which are explored and reinforced by their aesthetics—and, though their filmmaking is undeniably beautiful out of context, it's only sublime when within the context of a holistic, coherent piece of art.
This isn't to say these filmmakers' films necessarily all have something to say, only that the films have some kind of 'meaning' to the filmmakers themselves.
By contrast, Eggers lacks soul. No matter how much he tries to compensate for this by stealing from soulful films, it is very clear that his primary goal is not exploring something deep within the core of his being, nor exploring the sheer joy of filmmaking and art creation. Instead, he wants to impress, he wants to be respected. He is the filmmaking equivalent of a serial killer. It's the creation of art as a cold, calculated, completely performative act—even the way he peppers his films with factoids from pop-history books isn't genuine passion for a topic, instead it's just a way of creating the illusion of depth, impressing the critics, and winning himself critical acclaim. It's empty, dead filmmaking.
Robert Eggers' films may well be technically good and solidly constructed, but they are hollow, empty experiences nonetheless.

That all said, I did have a fun enough time watching The Northman, but it was the same fun enough time I had watching Centurion or Black Death. Nothing more, nothing less. Without Robert Eggers' name attached The Northman would be regarded as what it is: a resoundingly mediocre and creatively dead adventure film in the Netflix style which benefits from a few great actors giving solid performances and the fact that Iceland is inherently pretty,

If nothing else, though, it's good to see a studio drop so much money on an R-rated historical epic from an ostensibly arthouse filmmaker, even if the film does seem destined to flop.

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