Paul Thomas’s review published on Letterboxd:
There's an old saying that getting revenge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. There's also a saying that revenge is a dish best served cold. In a world of such contrasting wisdoms, which are we to believe???
The Northman is about Amleth, a behemoth of a man who is a warrior who acts more like an animal. He has vowed to get revenge on his uncle for killing his father. Its his life purpose. The only reason to live.
Robert Eggers 3rd masterpiece in a row is shot exquisitely. His skills as a horror director come in play brilliantly here, shooting claustrophobic closeups to give a feeling of general fear and misery that matches the characters. This isn't a movie where the characters tell you about the harsh realities of their lives. Instead, you feel it.
A lot of revenge films nowadays come with a moral question attached to them, wondering the revenge was worth it or did it ruin the protagonist too? A built-in condemnation of the deteriorating effects of getting even. It's honestly kind of an overdone, boring examination of revenge. Like a societal lecture of a character who has felt pain unlike what we have, whose life was ruined, and our message from our comfy living room is just a vapid, uncomplicated message to "just let it go and embrace life, man. Revenge isn't worth it." Kinda like how we tell depressed people to "just be happy."
The Northman presents a crossroads at one point in the movie, where there's a path forward for Amleth of love and acceptance. It's a scene shot brighter than the rest of the film. A sunny reprieve from a dark and dreary movie. I won't spoil which path he takes, though I'm sure most keen movie watchers know where this movie is going. I do however like that commentary of revenge being shown before the conclusion. Yes it's terrible and detrimental and sad if he goes for blood. Strength is fighting the past without letting it ruin you. To be the bigger man. To end the cycle of pain.
Revenge simply is a prison. It ruins lives, including innocent people you love. Yet, may I ask, if it's so bad, why does it feel so fucking good?