The Northman is a whole mess of a story to talk about. And let me preface this by saying I’m obviously not the target for this film. But I saw it, and I felt things.
The movie starts out with a King (Ethan Hawke) returning home to his wife (Nicole Kidman) and young Prince Amleth after an apparent bloody battle. His injuries are enough to cause him to embrace the fact that his son will soon have to take his place. He brings him into a spiritual kind of initiation cave where Willem Dafoe (The Fool) appears to hang out – and he prepares his son for an inevitable future. Minutes after surfacing from this animalistic ritual, Amleth witnesses The King’s death at the hands of his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Amleth flees and vows to avenge his Father’s death.
You may be thinking this story sounds familiar – because it is. The original story of Saxo’s Amleth is what we know as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We get the madness, the mother’s kiss, and the poisonous illusions. But this stretches way beyond the simpleness of a retold tale. Director Robert Eggers paints a bloody and violent psychological version with Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) on a mythical journey of revenge.
The film is wild, gory, and outlandishly shocking. It felt twisted of me to laugh when a Viking’s nose was cut off and body parts were nailed to a thatch hut, but laugh I did. The entire tone is beastly and savage with a dash of ridiculousness. Barking and howling half-naked men fighting and groaning while seeresses lead them to their fates.
The fleshy fight scenes are visually intense even while shaded by dark, damp skies (both day and night). The camera catches it all. Imagery and meaning flows as constant as the blood from the warriors. However, I still can’t say I understand it all. The expansive landscape shots of the North setting are flat and grainy, providing no beauty or promise.
I assume The Northman is Amleth, but no one ever refers to him as that. I wish I knew more about history when I watch things like this. But even then, do I want to see it soaked in so much blood? Sure, if it teaches me something or gets me to think. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”