Director Robert Eggers’ third feature film, The Northman, was one of Corner of Film’s most anticipated films of 2022. This wasn’t for nothing, either: the interesting tones and deeper symbolism at play in Eggers’ previous movies (The Witch and The Lighthouse) have seen the director become one of the most respected talents in Hollywood. Mixing an artistic approach with engaging storytelling has become one of Eggers’ best qualities as a filmmaker.
The Northman seems proof that Eggers has perfected this particular element of his craft. After a few short opening scenes of much-needed dramatic exposition regarding Amleth’s childhood and the murder of his father, The Northman jumps straight into its brutal action. From this first instance, it’s clear that Alexander Skarsgård brings an intimidating yet sympathetic presence to the lead role, and that’s something that he contributes to every subsequent scene.
Much like The Witch, The Northman‘s sense of bleak historical legitimacy is perhaps its most mesmerizing feature. As well as layered performances from its large ensemble cast, The Northman‘s gorgeous Icelandic scenery contributes to the overall tone of the film, which conjures a world of mysticism and tradition that feels truly immersive.
In this, Eggers creates a world that feels far deeper than it should. The world-building at play is minimal, but the performances of The Northman‘s cast add wordless context to the story that serves to make the film even more rewarding.
Aside from its excellent presentation, The Northman‘s most obvious visual aspect is the brutality of its violence. Injuries are starkly detailed, and the film’s use of occasional extreme gore borders on a sense of mythological reverence. The Northman is able to create a living, breathing Viking epic that’s still somehow deeply relatable thanks to the realistic nature of its characters and their motivations.
Despite a handful of fantastical elements, The Northman‘s story is deeply plausible. The historic detail adds a credibility that other filmmakers would have fumbled, but Eggers’ work speaks for itself.
The various dynamics at play between The Northman‘s numerous characters is important, and its in these that its actors really shine. Skarsård and Anya Taylor-Joy in particular share an understated chemistry that speaks to both characters, but the antagonistic elements between Amleth and his uncle paint an entirely different side of the protagonist.
The Northman doesn’t shy away from its deeper themes, and isn’t afraid to make its protagonist as much a villain as the man he seeks revenge from. In this, The Northman achieves a thought-provoking (if unoriginal) examination on morality and perspective.
The Northman is artistic throughout, but it’s never pretentious. There’s plenty left open to interpretation without ever leaving details vague. Most importantly, there are consequences to every element, reactions for every action, leaving its story feeling balanced when it reaches its satisfying conclusion. The Northman is a gorgeously realized, brilliantly told epic brought to life by note-perfect performances and unflinching brutality.
Summary: The Northman has it all: symbolism, story, and starkly brutal violence. The Northman uses every tool at Robert Eggers’ disposal, bringing the legendary epic to life in a way that few other filmmakers could achieve.