The Northman (2022)

April 14th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Robert Eggers; Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawks, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Björk, Oscar Novak; USA 2022, 136 min.

After his breakout success with The Witch and impressive follow-up The Lighthouse, the main problem with Robert Eggers’ latest – a violent Viking drama set in AD895 – is that it’s not weird enough. Yes, blood and gore will satisfy the aficionados of the sub-genre; and a dash of magic and some warmed-up Shakespeare, with the anti-hero Amleth (Skarsgard) impersonating the Bard’s Danish prince, although less reflective and more prone to spontaneous combustion. The cast is certainly up to it and Jarin Blaschkeof of Lighthouse fame does a brilliant job with the images but The Northman suffers the fate of most auteur-driven vehicles. Once the auteur is no longer in the driving seat the vision is lost in a big studio blowout that careens all over the place at two hours plus.

After returning home from a war to his Queen Gudrun (Kidman), King Aurvandil (Hawk) joins his son Amleth (Norvak) to celebrate victory with ferocious farting match as they impersonate wild dogs (a recurring motif). But the jubilation is short-lived when the King’s brother Fjölnir (Bang), murders Aurvandil in full sight of the boy who escapes and flees the country only to return as a fully-fledged fighter (Skarsgard). Having been sold into slavery by his uncle and mother – now an item – he falls for love interest Olga of the birch forest (Taylor-Joy), and soon turns the tables on Fjölnir spilling family secrets in a revenge-fuelled furore that culminates in a lava-spitting volcano at the Gates of Hell.

A cast of big names appear in cameos: Willem Dafoe has fun as court jester Heimir the Fool, and Björk warns of things to comes as eerie eye-less witch. There is a Valkyrie riding across the sky on a horse – again counterpointing the terrifying violence of spilled guts, death by fire and multiple mutilations. Perhaps the key to Eggers’ approach lies in an early scene when Aurvandil has returned and Queen Gudrun invites him to bed. But the King is too proud to admit he is wounded, and instead of conjugal sex teams up with his son for a bloody bonding session where Amleth watches his father’s intestines morph into a magical tree crawling up into the sky. Later we will see Amleth repeating his father’s penchant for toxic male activities in place of female company. Eggers struggles to close the gap between supernatural magic and an expensive conventional Viking noir adventure. One big question hangs over this overstuffed mainstream production: what would the beast look like had Eggers’ had full control of its reins?. AS


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