The Northman

The Northman ★★★½

As a companion to Arthur C. Clarke's observation about future technology and magic, I believe any sufficiently ancient myth is indistinguishable from parody. Ethan Hawk turns down sex with Nicole Kidman so he can growl like a wolf around a fire, a kid announces his passage into manhood by farting, and it's kinda shadowy but I'm pretty sure Willem Dafoe whips his penis out. This is the first five minutes of The Northman, half arthouse spectacular, half Spike TV vision of Valhalla.

Robert Eggers hasn't yet delivered more than promised on the label, so it's fortunate that the packaging is consistently wonderful. Tenth century Scandinavia gets his research-paper-meets-magic treatment this time, wrapped in ye olde revenge story. Eggers and co-writer Sjón take some familiar Shakespeare cues - our hero's name, Amleth, can easily be misheard across the Icelandic landscape - and differentiate them by making the lead a Viking*, participating in all the pillaging expected of those who Vike for a living, but obviously less jazzed about the slaughter. Can't believe I had Legos of these guys as a kid. They looked so much happier then.

I love the scenes of magic, as Eggers continues to show as much imagination with his surrealism as rigor with his historical recreation. I love the cast, which includes the ever-intriguing Anya Taylor-Joy and Alexander Skarsgård playing manly as Hel (with one "L") with such a straight face that one responds to his feral yelling with the appropriate seriousness of being at a football game. And I'm always up for watching people in moderately miserable conditions approximate the lives of people in absolutely miserable conditions. It's all in service of pitting ridiculously ab-ed men against each other, and the movie gets a bit tiresome when the inevitable gets put off day after day. But between bloodsports and some imaginative gore, there's plenty of entertainment along the way.

* [edit: Have been usefully reminded that Hamlet is an adaptation of the Scandinavian myth, and so we're actually seeing the original Dane in action here. themoreyouknow.gif!]

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