Movies like 'The Northman' deserve more praise

With its star-studded cast and infamous director Northman was a surprise failure in terms of box office numbers. This article delves into why and how.

Kieran McCann Carrasco
20th October 2022
Image Credit: IMDb

(Spoiler Warning)

The Northman is a beautifully shot and immersive epic revenge tale, full of talented actors, gorgeous set pieces, and a thrilling vision from the director of The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers.

In both films, Eggers expertly creates an unsettling atmosphere, especially through the facial expressions of actors, and the use of dramatic lighting, to convey madness in people; examples of this can be seen in the destructive drunkenness of The Lighthouse and scenes such as the ritual at the beginning of The Northman.

The Northman, though centred around a revenge tale, is much more about the indoctrination of a young prince Amleth, played by Alexander Skarsgard and Oscar Novak (young Amleth), into Norse religion, and more prevalently, his delusion with the belief of fate, a delusion which destroys relationships with those he loves. Eggers brilliantly portrays Amleth’s belief in the righteousness of his cause through the seamless inclusion of mystical images intertwined with reality, like the ride of a Valkyrie and a climactic duel at the gates of Hel.

Rather than presenting us with yet another big budget CGI-fest, riddled with over-choreographed battle scenes or world-ending stakes, Eggers sets the audience in the mind of an ancient Norse person with a close and personal story. This means that, each scene and event, we see through the eyes of those people, whose beliefs were so strong that they would have perceived the things happening around them to be the work of the gods. Events such as the village guards going mad, or dogs becoming rabid, which would be written about as curses or the work of demons, we see are actually caused by people’s actions; for example, the poisoning of food in the maddened guards’ case. In this regard of realistically portraying the beliefs of Norse people, Eggers does so in a way I haven’t seen yet in any other movie.

So why do movies like this and The Lighthouse perform poorly at the box office?

Well, I was prompted to write this article when I saw poor reviews for the movie on Amazon, some saying that it was not epic enough or the fight scenes were too slow, and I suspect a lot of it has to do with expectations.

Trailers for this movie focused on brutal fight scenes and epic rituals, as well as Amleth’s reclamation of his kingdom, a line only briefly prioritised in the movie, which would give potential audiences an idea of an epic revenge quest filled with battles and grandeur. Unfortunately, these types of trailers are very important for a movie to garner popularity nowadays, with billion dollar productions such as Rings of Power, or boundless movie franchises such as the MCU. There is no better example of this than The Lighthouse, which only made 18.3 million dollars at the box office with its subdued marketing, despite being another incredible movie.

For all its technical and artistic brilliance, The Northman promised a film more appealing to wider audiences, but provided a nuanced tale that would have disappointed and confused the people it drew in with its marketing. Don’t let box office numbers fool you though, we need more movies like this!

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