The Northman (15) - a bloody and vengeful tale

Robert Egger's latest film dips into the realm of Vikings and revenge in the tale that inspired Shakespeare's Hamlet

Selin Hasan
20th May 2022
Image credit: IMDB
In this revenge tale with the story that inspired Hamlet, Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) watches as his father gets ruthlessly murdered by his brother Fjölnir. Amleth flees and, with the battle cry, “I will avenge you father; I will save you mother; I will kill you Fjölnir!” grows up to become a berserker, who were in Old Norse folklore and history said to fight in a ‘trance-like fury,’ which Skarsgård effortlessly portrays.

Eggers unapologetically includes magic and fantasy without it being cringe or feeling like he tried too hard

An appearance from a seeress (a woman said to be able to predict the future and perform sorcery) played by Bjork enlightens Amleth with his fate and sends him on a quest to Iceland to avenge his father’s death, save his mother from Fjölnir, and kill his uncle. During the wait for the right moment, the Prince falls in love with a fellow slave, Olga of the Birch Forest, a feisty and beautiful woman. The story develops as Amleth and Olga work together, using her manipulation skills and his physical prowess. 

A recurring theme in The Northman is the question of whether Amleth  will choose hatred for his enemies, or kindness for his loved ones. This internal battle brings him almost close to being a relatable or even likable character at some points. However, at other times, he chooses hatred, proving that he is iron-hearted. The unwillingness of Eggers to make a story end how you expect it to is another factor in what makes all of his works such a unique experience to watch.  

The unwillingness of Eggers to make a story end how you expect it to is another factor in what makes all of his works such a unique experience to watch.  

This Norse saga takes advantage of the stunning scenery of Ireland - where it was shot - which encapsulates and makes it almost impossible to look away, even if there isn’t the non-stop action one might expect from a Viking film. With this and his previous works The Witch and The Lighthouse, Eggers has shown that he will not shy away from ambiguity and is happy for his films to be interpreted differently by different viewers. He unapologetically includes magic and fantasy without it being cringe or feeling like he tried too hard - for example, the mermaids in The Lighthouse and the flying witches and shapeshifters in The Witch are unexplained but not hard to understand. In one scene where Amleth comes close to death, a Valkyrie is shown carrying him to Valhalla on a horse - the staircase to heaven type visuals along with Amleth’s lifeless body slung over the horse makes it fairly obvious what’s going on even if it takes you a few seconds to piece it together. 

Video credit: Focus Features
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