The Northman

The Northman ★★★½

The films of Robert Eggers have all been unfashionable in their way, and his latest gestures an ideological about-face to his feature debut. If The Witch postured a vaguely feminist stance in its dismantling of patriarchal/institutional oppression, The Northman leans into its regressive patriarchal revenge fantasy with intimations of Shakespearean drama and Wagnerian grandeur. Mixing fiction, history, and unchecked fascist attitudes, it’s a deep dive into pure story, all exotic spectacle and predestined masculinist myth: brawny, loin-clothed men fight to the death, Valkyries ride into Valhalla, the deadliest game of full-contact rugby is staged, and women are either virtuous madonnas or deceiving whores. It's so entrenched in the mythos that it hardly thinks to interrogate some of the more upsetting implications, chiefly Queen Gudrun’s backstory. And yet, as cinema, it’s a frequently rollicking and captivating showcase of detail-oriented world-building and sinewy craft.

If this is about anything, it’s about lateral movements. Characters move from left to right (and vice-versa) with exacting grace, and Eggers’ camera tracks sideways with strict precision. Eggers does track inward and backward (often in follow shots), occasionally introducing a new chapter’s setting with a push-in and pan-right, yet the fixation on horizontal maneuvers accentuates his toying with offscreen space, letting the vastness of his desolate, muddy landscapes slowly unfurl from the screen’s edge like a scroll being laid out. Like his previous work, the camera gymnastics invoke the stately meticulousness of Kubrick, yet, between this and The Lighthouse, Eggers’ mystical aspirations suggest he strives to be the next John Boorman. His work has become progressively less interesting with each passing film, but Eggers is still on his way to becoming the visionary craftsman he longs to be. If you can stomach the dubious undertones, this is a truly wicked entertainment.

Consider this your date movie of the week, because, regardless of whether they like it or not, your partner’s response should indicate whether or not you’ll want to stick around.

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