Eggers’ third film is maximalist filmmaking to a fault—it may be his most ambitious, but also his weakest in terms of storytelling where it offers the requisite thrills and action, but little in the way of deeply-resonating themes or characters.
Dir. Robert Eggers
2022 | USA | Action/Adventure/Drama | 137 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Old Norse
M18 (passed clean) for strong bloody violence, some sexual content and nudity
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe
Plot: Prince Amleth is on the verge of becoming a man when his father is brutally murdered by his uncle, who kidnaps the boy’s mother. Two decades later, Amleth is now a Viking who raids Slavic villages. He soon meets a seeress who reminds him of his vow to save his mother and avenge his father.
Distributor: United International Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate – Vengeance
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres – The Projector
Unfortunately, lightning doesn’t strike thrice for Robert Eggers, whose third film, The Northman, doesn’t hold a candle to The Witch (2015) or The Lighthouse (2019).
Here he eschews the intimacy, claustrophobia and psychological mood-setting of his earlier works for a much more ambitious undertaking—an expensive Viking epic that assaults your senses from the first minute to the last.
The Northman is maximalist filmmaking to a fault—when done right in this style, we get a full-throttle masterwork like, say, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).
But while Eggers’ film offers the requisite thrills and action, some of which are unsurprisingly brutal and gory, its storytelling lacks deeply-resonating characters that we can root for or themes that would challenge viewers.
“You must choose between kindness for your kin and hatred for your enemies.”
For a film with an uncompromising vision, The Northman is unexpectedly conventional as its narrative centers on a boy, Amleth, who must return as a grown man to avenge the death of his father, a king who had been unceremoniously dethroned.
It’s a familiar arc, which is not an issue if done well, but Eggers doesn’t quite go far with his material, a case of its stunning visuals exceeding the narrative’s grasp, opting for a standard structure with characters that serve as markers of plotting than human beings we can truly empathise with.
I found myself neither liking nor disliking the characters, though out of all the performances, the one I found most interesting was Claes Bang’s, who plays Fjolnir, the recipient of all of Amleth’s rage.
If Eggers had more faith in pushing the characterisations of Amleth and Fjolnir further into more psychologically complex territory rather than ultimately falling back on me versus you tropes, The Northman would have been a more fascinating endeavour.