The Northman

The Northman ★★★½

The recently crowned auteur Robert Eggers gives us another technically unimpeachable film set in another era. In this case a time that's almost unimaginable for modern viewers. It's a time of such brutality where it's impossible to have any heroes based on modern terms. It's a joyless life filled with the brutal code the Vikings lived by. I admired that Eggers didn't try to water it down. The attention to detail is staggering and makes this film a must-see. Yet I wasn't able to get fully onboard with his vision.

Alexander Skarsgard gives it his all as a stoic-man-animal filled with unchecked rage. Amleth is introduced as a smiling-beaming child. He's filled with light and love for his father, a King, played by Ethan Hawke. After Amleth's uncle, Fjolnir murders his father, Amleth will never smile again and why should he. His life ,as he describes, is death in a living corpse. His soul is dead and heart empty. His only reason for existence is vengeance. Nicole Kidman plays his mother, the Queen, in a standout performance that is especially rewarding on a second watch. In this male-dominated world there is another strong female performance with the always wonderful and etherial Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga. Unfortunately there's not enough room for her. This is after all Amleth's story and really his alone. That's a bit of a problem for me because try as I might I couldn't really connect with him. Part of me was longing to see Olga's story as I've seen Amleth's so many times before.

I really wanted to love this film as much as so many particularly on Letterboxd do. I even went to see it twice to make sure my initial disconnection wasn't due to seeing it while tired. Unfortunately on second viewing, wide awake, I felt myself outside looking in. I'd marvel at the beauty, darkness and ambition Eggers and crew bring to the table. It couldn't have been an easy shoot. Yet emotionally I felt close to nothing. Not that I need to with every film but when you have one primarily about vengeance, I think you should share a certain passion with the character to see through the inflicted wrongs. The Northman is interesting in that it asks you to question if the one who committed the initial wrong is truly as terrible as originally thought. The section where Olga and Amelth inflict a "nightmare" on Fjolnir's pastures and oldest son's friends was the most involving for me. I also enjoyed all the mystical elements and visions. Overall it's an undeniable work of art but no where near as fiery as it's awesomely located finale. In terms of characters and emotion there was a chilliness I couldn't shake.

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