The Northman

The Northman

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Idk I think it’s fun. Katherine Connell has done the best job of describing the film’s problems; I don’t find much to disagree with in what she says. The Northman could definitely stand to be much weirder and more violent and sexual, but then again I recognize that “I wish there were more incest” isn’t a very fair-minded complaint for something that was always intended to be a mainstream project (and make no mistake, this is a totally commercial project, and if it’s not proved a blockbuster it’s because the modern range for blockbusters is dismally narrow). Also, as I’ve already spoken about elsewhere, I really don’t think this is centered around a “critique” of revenge and masculinity: the film’s perspective is so sutured to Amleth’s, and the ending such a straightforwardly—almost disarmingly so—“happy” one (happy in the sense that his line lives on and he gets to experience the ultimate win, a warrior’s death, opening the gates of Valhalla for him), that this winds up playing much more like an invitation to inhabit the masculine death drive for two hours than to deconstruct it, as opposed to something like, for example, Eggers’ own The Lighthouse. In that sense it definitely almost actively, if unintentionally, lends itself to a fascist interpretation (“My blood will live on! Valhalla awaits!”)—especially that ending, with Olga nursing his noble babies (her nurturing motherly warmth vs his actual mother’s scary thanatoid sexuality: definitely need to revisit this dichotomy after I read Theweleit’s Male Fantasies!). That said! The cast is excellent, there a number of beautifully composed sequences and images, and the narrative, even if extremely overfamiliar, is mostly engaging and well-woven. Even working in the mode of a studio action movie, Eggers just has a remarkable talent for evoking the wonder and terror of the past, both its all-too-recognizable humanity and its alien horrors. (On which note: for me, the first half hour remains the strongest part of the film, simply because it has the greatest minute-for-minute quotient of ritual weirdness.) If it falls far short of its outsized ambitions, it certainly succeeds as thoroughly enjoyable, lovingly textured historical adventure, and this evening, that’s enough for me.

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