Heavy Metal 895
Robert Eggers finds the language of a movie before anything else. Drawing up the screenplay for The Witch, Eggers studied journals, diaries, and anything from the early days of American settlers that he could get his hands on. Through their particularly dated parlance, he crafted a haunting vision of religious fervor gone amuck in a haunted New England wood. For his sophomore feature, The Lighthouse, Eggers looked to the vernacular of folklore, myths, and seamen, spinning spittle-infused soliloquies about mariner curses on the 1890s high seas. His salty dialogue matched perfectly with Willem Dafoe’s wide-eyed delivery. With The Northman, Eggers pairs with Icelandic poet Sjón to find the language of the 9th century Nordic people. And their language is violence.
The Northman stars Alexander Skarsgård as a vengeance seeking Viking prince and is a story of a life of death. Skarsgård is Amleth, both an anagram of Hamlet and the inspiration for Shakespeare’s tragedy about a prince who seeks vengeance against the uncle who killed his father and married his mother. The Northman tells the Viking story that inspired Shakespeare’s work with a pen dipped in blood and fire. Amleth is baptized into violence when his traitorous uncle Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang) strikes down his father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) and makes off with his mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Vengeance ensues.
Eggers pulls liberally from Viking and Icelandic mythology while working in nods to our most modern mythos – moviemaking magic – to craft a singularly epic explosion of cinematic verve. Formidable in scope and never-not-wowing from an audio-visual perspective, The Northman casually flirts with the great cinematic cornerstones of our times, making visual nods to films like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars in ways that only an emboldened 38-year-old American director dare. Eggers’ exuberant style, one drenched in a deeply-felt love for the cinema, is splashed in rose-colored arcs across the screen, allowing for a film made from the stuff of teenage wet dreams given maturity, talented beyond measure, and all the resources one could ask for.
[READ MORE: Our review of Robert Eggers’ ‘The Witch’, my favorite film of the 2010’s]
The Northman presents a straight-forward revenge film splintered by the complications of Nordic mythos, making for a cinematic experience that operates as both a bloodlusty sword and sandals epic and Lynchian dream logic fable. Eggers had a formidable 90-million dollar budget to play with and he largely piles those riches into transporting audiences directly to his vision of the Viking age; building decadent sets from scratch; shooting on location in the resplendent, isolated environs of Scandinavia; staging incredible battle sequences; and creating a myth-driven dreamworld that intersects with the more grounded elements of the story in dizzying ways.
It’s a no-holds-barred vision of barbarity, one wherein we never quite cast our lot in with the ostensible hero of the story, Amleth, for he is a man ruled by distemper and rage. In the pole position, Skarsgård gives the performance of a lifetime, transforming into an animalistic menace with hulking traps and burning ears. A lumbering slab of fury, ripped and howling with the lungs of a predator, Skarsgård’s performance is a physical wonder, capturing our attention early on and never letting go.
Despite the unrelentingly barbaric, sinewy vision Eggers and Sjón maintain throughout, The Northman stills finds a twisted sense of humor, taking time out of the flaying and decapitation to make a flatulence joke every now and then. The Lighthouse was after all a good 50% fart humor. To contrast the Shakespearean heft of Amleth’s mud-stained earthly dramas, Eggers levies eye-popping visual effects that bewilder audiences trained to admire the self-same VFX of an increasingly-monopolized blockbuster aesthetic. The reins are removed in such a way to suggest Zack Snyder’s exuberant 300 had he had more narrative wherewithal.
[READ MORE: Our review of ‘The Lighthouse‘ starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson]
The film’s muscular machismo is never left unchecked. Amleth’s vein-popping madness is tempered by Anya Taylor-Joy‘s sly turn as Olga of the Birch Forest just as the sword-swinging capital justice is scattered by a seeress played by Björk. Myth and history swirl and intersect as Eggers allows the mixture of realism and surrealism to play out uninterrupted.The Northman is a vibe – angry and venomous and made up of brawny man meat – but it is entirely it’s own creation, unwaveringly so.
[READ MORE: Our exclusive interview with Robert Eggers for ‘The Witch’]
Though The Northman cannot quite reach the same emotional and narrative heights of horror masterpiece The Witch, it remains nonetheless a staggering, singular vision of the horror of history and the magic of myth. In a time where the movie theaters of the world are becoming more and more a nesting ground exclusively for repetitive superhero antics, a 90-million dollar ultra-violent Viking epic The Northman feels like an adult antidote to the placidity of modern entertainment. Even if that means that it must carve the still beating heart directly from the chest of its enemies.
CONCLUSION: A cinematic wonder of Viking violence and old-school melodramatic barbarity, ‘The Northman’ is an unrelenting and gruesome historic epic that showcases an absolutely berserk performance from Alexander Skarsgård and all the visual style and fascinating dialogue you’d expect from auteur Robert Eggers.
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The post ‘THE NORTHMAN’, A Life of Death appeared first on Silver Screen Riot.