‘The Northman’ is a retelling of a classic hero’s journey, Viking-style

Robert Eggers’ brings historical mythos to life in his latest film

Courtesy of IMBD

Courtesy of IMBD

By Will Duffy, Staff Writer

Robert Eggers is one of the most celebrated up-and-coming directors of the last decade, and for good reason. His most famous works, “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” are both horror classics that mix historical fiction with the supernatural lore of the time, accompanied by truly surreal and haunting imagery. Eggers’ films are fantastic at capturing not only the mythos of the time period they’re set in, but also how people interacted with one another. This is done through masterfully crafted dialogue that feels ripped straight out of a book written during the respective time periods. Naturally, this resumé makes him a perfect director for his latest hit, “The Northman.”

A departure from the horror genre, “The Northman” takes us to medieval Scandinavia, where Vikings ruled the land and seas. It follows Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), a boy set to inherit the throne of his father King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke). When Aurvandil is murdered by his brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang), Amleth narrowly escapes the kingdom with his life and flees to the kingdom of the Rus, where he swears he will come back to save his mother. Here, he’s adopted by a group of berserkers and becomes a skilled fighter. After attacking a village, Amleth encounters a soothsayer, who reminds him of his past and implores him to avenge his father, by saving his mother and killing Fjolnir. Hearing that Fjolnir has been exiled to Iceland, he poses as a slave en route to his farm, where he’s taken Amleth’s mother as his wife and bore two sons. Fjolnir takes him in, and Amleth must find a way to free himself and the other slaves, as well as avenge his father and save his mother.

Like Eggers’ past films, “The Northman” makes use of modern special effects to bring historical mythos to life. It’s used to create some absolutely stunning imagery, such as a horse riding into the Viking heaven of Valhalla. Unlike his past films, this one is much more of an adventure; rather than one about a group of people trapped in the middle of nowhere being haunted by a supernatural force. In this film, the supernatural force is on the protagonist’s side, in the form of a magical blade that Amleth fights an undead spirit to obtain. The dialogue in “The Northman” is also beautifully written, to the point where watching it can feel like you’re hearing a story passed down for generations, which I imagine was Eggers’ intention.

“The Northman” has everything it needed to be a great film, and it succeeded. Its cast all give fantastic performances, particularly Skarsgard. I can’t help but feel as though he was born to play the role of a vengeful warrior. With this film, Eggers effortlessly slips into the action/adventure genre with a visceral, gory spectacle that pulls no punches. The fight scenes, while being barebones, still find a way to be inventive. The brutality of the setting is perfectly captured through scenes such as one involving a game of Knattleikr, a more violent precursor to lacrosse. In all of these scenes, the superb editing and sound make the audience feel every hit. It’s not just a flashy gorefest though, “The Northman” is also a statement on the negative consequences of violence and the morality of revenge. Without a doubt, it’s Eggers at his best.

Will Duffy can be reached at [email protected].