Talking about Robert Eggers’ “The Northman”

In the spring of 2018, M. and I were preparing for a week in Salem, Mass., so we watched several movies about Salem, witch trials, etc. One of them was The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers.

At the time, I had more to say about Three Sovereigns for Sarah, but I will admit that visually and experientially, The Witch stayed with me longer.

Now Eggers is back with a new “Viking blockbuster,” The Northman, and people are talking about it.

At Amor et Mortem, Anna Uroševic starts her review,

You know that a newly released film has made quite an impact on you when, hours after you’ve left the theater, you obsessively muse upon its indelible imagery and the effect of the moviegoing experience is all you seem capable of discussing with family and friends. In fact, you’re filled with missionary-level zeal in urging people you care about to go see the film as a matter of vital importance. . . .

The plot of The Northman is very straightforward, as no-nonsense as a spear hurtling towards your face (and we see plenty of those in this film): loosely based on the tale of Amleth as recorded in the 12th-century Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, it’s a revenge narrative of a young Scandinavian prince looking to kill his uncle, the man responsible for the treacherous act of fratricide/regicide by killing the prince’s father, the rightful king.

Pagan historian Tom Rowsell was dubious at first after movies, TV series, and games created what he calls “a wave of Viking invasions of popular media, many of which, including History Channel’s Vikings series and the Assassins creed Valhalla video game, copy the ‘biker Viking aesthetic.'”

But his blog post “The Northman: Pagan Themes Explained” sings The Northman’s praises after studying its Pagan elements, even while still faulting its color scheme:

I consider this to be the best Viking film ever made and I expect it will be remembered as such for some time. But while I had hoped this would mark the long awaited end of the biker Viking-age aesthetic which has so permeated popular culture over the last decade, its tawdry mark can still be detected. Not so much in the costumes, but more in regards to the colour palette and score – the former consists of the rather familiar Hollywood medieval drabness with which historical dramas consistently deny the era’s vibrance. The score, while competently composed by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough, and effective in keeping the adrenaline pumping while the blood flows across the screen, will date the film since it owes much to the recently invented percussion driven fusion of neo-folk, world-music and martial-industrial that has become the stereotypical “le Viking music” of our time. Widely perceived as authentic because it uses medieval instruments, the combination of far flung elements such as didgeridoos, Siberian drums and Mongolian throat singing would have been as unfamiliar to Vikings as it was to anyone before the likes of Hagalaz Runedance and Wardruna invented it some 20 years ago.

These are, however, minor quibbles with an expertly crafted film which is well cast, with actors pulling off some phenomenal performances (Nicole Kidman deserves particular praise for her role as the detestable Queen Gudrún). Eggers is certainly among the greatest filmmakers of his generation and regardless of how well The Northman performs at the box office . . .  it will be remembered as a cult classic of cinema history.

At the British newspaper The Guardian, TV-film critic Steve Rose’s whiskers are quivering over the possibility that The Wrong People might like the The Northman too much — but then here is someone who thinks that Jane Austen’s novels credibly could be used as  vehicles of far-right propaganda. The costuming of the leading characteer, Skarsgård, reminds Rose uncomfortably of Jake Angeli, the “QAnon shaman,” who had his fifteen minutes of fame on Jan. 6, 2021. Like we should ban wolf pelts forever. But he admits that The Northman is a “piece of rousing, skilfully made entertainment,” even while spending 90 percent of his review on Those People and what they might be thinking.

As another blogger wrote, it  “takes Heathen cosmology and religion seriously [which] is just a breath of fresh air.”

2 thoughts on “Talking about Robert Eggers’ “The Northman”

  1. “It’s a revenge narrative of a young Scandinavian prince looking to kill his uncle, the man responsible for the treacherous act of fratricide/regicide by killing the prince’s father, the rightful king.”
    Uh, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the basic plot of Shakespear’s Hamlet?

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