The Northman is the third feature film Roberta Egersaundoubtedly one of the most interesting young filmmakers who has so far presented us with very notable and innovative works The Witch and The Lighthouse. This time he brings us historical fiction, which he wrote in collaboration with the Icelandic writer Sion, and which is advertised as an unprecedented Viking spectacle. The film premiered at the Rigoletto Festival in Stockholm on March 28, and was released in cinemas two weeks later.
The screenplay is based on the Icelandic saga of the vengeful prince Amlet from the tenth century, which was adapted by William Shakespeare and presented in 1602 as Hamlet. The extended prologue takes us in 895 to a kingdom on a stormy peninsula somewhere in the North Atlantic where King Aurvindal (Itan Hok) returns from the war campaign. Wounded in battle, the king wants to make preparations for his son Amlet to inherit the throne. Shortly afterwards, he was ambushed by soldiers loyal to his brother Fjolnir (Klaes Bang). The prince flees by boat, vowing to avenge his father, save his mother and kill his uncle.
Years later, Amlet (Aleksandar Skarsgard) became a ruthless warrior for the conquering tribe. After conquering a village, he learns that Fjolnir was overthrown and that he is now a farmer in Iceland. Pretending to be a captured slave, Amlet breaks through to his uncle’s farm and, unknown to his family, prepares for revenge – he devises a plan to psychologically destroy and finally kill Fjolnir.
In his plan, he is guided by religious rituals, starting with the witch interpreted by Bjork, all the way to the girl Olga (Anya Taylor Joy) which has its own spells, and is aided by folklore relics such as the magic sword. However, the real foundations of his goal in a world where heroes are villains and vice versa are traditions of family obligations and a modern code of what it means to be a warrior and a man.
Egers once again shows that he is excellent at historical dramas that possess elements of the supernatural. Here he takes the basis of the legend of Amlet and the straightforward story of revenge in his hands was a little twisted and artistically refined. As expected, the narrative with traditional conventions of revenge stories could not be avoided – what will happen, how it will happen and why it must be so, but within all that there is a deeper and more complex story related to the term, ie the revenge procedure.
The story raises various questions about traditional justifications, understandings and the purpose of bloody revenge, but also about Amlet’s warrior code, his role as his father’s avenger and his loyalty to his still-living family, as well as to a potential family in the future. However, all this is lost after some time, and the story still follows a traditional, simpler path. Of course, the dissection of the topic of revenge itself may be completely irrelevant for this film, but it is a pity that the potential for elaboration that has not been fulfilled has been set. This means that instead of provocative meditation on free will and revenge wrapped in a bloody and detailed spectacle – we get “only” a spectacle.
It can be said that a good part of the film’s entire narrative is secondary to the author’s commitment to re-creating the ninth-century Nordic world, exploring its social and cultural values, and its religious beliefs and rituals. The story is an excuse for Egers to combine a dirty, brutal sense of aesthetic realism with a captivating atmosphere of unnatural fear. That authenticity and atmosphere draws this film because when the story and basic ideas about revenge come into sharper focus, they are not nearly as developed as building the world around them.
This is a world where prophecy and enchanted weapons are as common as hills, stone and wood buildings, and ingrained cruelty. Egers gives a cool gloom to landscapes and uses tricks in scenes of the supernatural to make the elements of the fantastic equally vital and authentic – making everything look both archaic and contemporary. Visually, all this is very interesting and gives the scanty background of the film a mysterious look of imposing doom, but I believe that will not be enough for many, especially not for those who expected more elaborate characters and better dialogues. In an attempt to stay true to the original material and in Egers’s balance between his own ideas and the demands of studies and censors, The Northman has lost the potential status of a top film.
The Northman is an art spectacle by Robert Egers in which the filmmaker did not sacrifice his recognizable style – a film adaptation of a bloody, vengeful Icelandic legend that mostly adheres to the basis of the story, so the huge narrative potential remained untapped.
my final grade: 7/10
Source: The Filmske Recenzije by filmskerecenzije.com.
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