*note: there may be minor spoilers for The Northman below
*note: this review was originally published on Patreon for subscribers in April
There are a number of movies I’ve been excited for already this year and The Northman has been one of them for quite some time. I almost ignored this film until I saw the trailer and realized “Oh, this is the story of Hamlet, but with Vikings.” And it’s true! I read about this film and found out that The Northman is based on an old saga that did in fact eventually inspire the story of Hamlet centuries later.
In case you’re not familiar with Hamlet though, I’ll summarize what the film is about: The Northman is set in the 10th century and follows a Viking prince named Amleth who is spurred on to revenge after his uncle kills his father and seizes the throne, forcing him to flee for his life. After being trained as a berserker by another group of Vikings, Amleth eventually discovers he is unable to avoid his fate and must pursue vengeance, no matter the cost.
One thing that will hit you straight away about The Northman is how beautiful it all is. The cinematography is exquisite throughout and all of the colors really pop on the screen. I was also struck by all the attention to detail scattered throughout this film: Eggers and his crew really did their homework when they put this story together. All of the details: the jewelry, the clothing, the artwork, and yes even the weapons, it all feels authentic, like something that would really have been found in that era.
The acting is spot on too. Alexander Skarsgård absolutely nails the role of Amleth and Anya Taylor-Joy is delightful to watch as Olga. I particularly enjoyed the raw ferocity Alexander Skarsgård portrayed on the screen (the fight scenes he’s in are all amazing). Mix all of this in with the amazing musical score and The Northman is easily one of the best films to come out in the first half of 2022.
I also have to give a brief shout-out to all the locations explored in this movie, particularly Iceland where a big chunk of the movie is set. You might expect such barren locales not to be particularly interesting looking but it’s quite the opposite actually. The way Eggers frames each scene, particularly in Iceland, there’s a beauty to be found everywhere that I appreciated as the story went on.
I also have to say I enjoyed the role magic played in the story. And make no mistake, it’s made quite clear that there is magic at work. While certain story elements are attributed to spirits or gods when we (the audience) know it’s actually humans at work, there are other details that make it plain that something not of this Earth is getting involved. We’re never told exactly who or what this is. It could be straight up the Norse gods at work, or it could be pure spiritual power in general. But something otherworldly is moving in this story and the way it is presented is spine-tingling.
If there is one nitpick to make about this movie, it’s that your enjoyment of certain parts of the story may very depending on how well you know Norse mythology. There are multiple references made to Odin and Valhalla, and if you don’t know how those stories are put together (and the role Valkyries play in the mythology) then certain scenes in this movie won’t make much sense to you. However, I should emphasize that you don’t really have to fully understand the Norse mythology to get the movie as a whole, it just helps with some of the finer details if you do.
I can’t emphasize enough that The Northman is worth checking out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of period dramas or not, this is a story about something everyone can understand: a son seeking vengeance. One thing is for sure, this is a movie you won’t forget any time soon and I’m so glad I went to see it.
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