The Northman Review: The Power of an Oath

The Northman Review: The Power of an Oath

Sam Mroz, Staff Writer

Betrayal, revenge and a wolf head’s worth of brutality smears a tale of blood and violence across a span of decades for the noted Northman. A Viking-epic that tells an appropriation of the classic tale of Hamlet, but with a Nordic filter plastered over it, acclaimed artisan director, Robert Eggers, brings the Old Norse to the big screen in notorious style.

The Northman, helmed by the lead actor Alexander Skarsgard, sees the growth of a devoted son, to savage bear warrior, to self-appointed slave and then to usurper of his own birth-righted kingdom. Playing with a lot in its 2 hour and 17-minute runtime, the duality of Eggers’ vision is part exploration of Nordic culture and part man on mission to regain that which was once his. Enveloped in a string of revenge-driven violence and fighting, the development of Skarsgard’s Amleth, a.k.a the Northman, is one that follows a young boy who is swiftly thrown into the world of terror and plundering that he is quite aware of, but still acts as a young lad embracing the warm “smothering” made by his battle worn father.

Without revealing to much of Amleth’s journey, Skarsgard feels as close to a man-bear that anyone could get, with a regimen that I’m sure many offensive linebackers will be asking him about in the near future. The sheer sense of magnitude that is his physique enforces the sense of power that he wields, as you know that whoever lies in his way is practically going against the might of a bear. Yet, when he battles back against even greater foes, both in realms of emotion, the mind and literal size, his fights feel that much more earned, that much more fought for, rather than just a man walking over his competition.

Amleth’s seamless devotion to being a killing machine is made by his principles, his guiding beliefs, formed by his father who was more focused on connecting to his wolf-like tendencies than to the embrace of his wife. As the world sways from ritualistic traditions back to a rage-induced slaughter, the values found within this world, within this culture, are felt. The need to exert oneself, to die an honorable death in battle to reach the gates of Valhalla is subliminally crammed through each dialogue scene, additionally being directly said aloud at least five times during the movie.

His life was based through the few moments he held with his father, even if they may seem otherwise untraditional to a common father-son connection, and the truth to which he abides by is minorly bashed at through the realities he begins to uncover, and then gradually builds to make the audience choose between siding with Amleth’s actions or the people that he is fighting against by the final act.

No matter the inner conflict of the story, the world around Amleth and his supporting characters is a harsh, frost coated world, where the waves bash against the boats that traverse their waters, and the only thing that can hope to bring heat to their land is the eruption of an actual volcano. The adversity of Amleth’s goals could not be set in a harsher world, and thus makes his journey feel that much more heavy, that much more draining, and establishes the characters will to fight with ease in its opening first act.

Names such as Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe and Claes Bang round out the cast surrounding Skarsgard’s Amleth, with Joy’s character Olga playing his norwegic, shaman partner. Other than the majority of screen time held between Skarsgard and Joy, all other characters are given at least a handful of minutes to show why they were cast as norwegic, ritual driven Viking-folk.

In a story that moves more than rests, action is at the fore front of this film, and even if you aren’t invested in discovering the inner folds of Viking culture, or the secrecy surrounding the identity-driven oath that Amleth follows to a T, then you at least have two hours of seeing Skarsgard embody his animal instincts upon the Norwegian prey that he comes across.

More than what was expected, The Northman is as educational as it is entertaining, joining the limited supply of Viking-accurate media that is at our world’s disposal and telling a tale of death and destruction that can best be seen paved across a theater screen, sword-slashes and all. The work of Robert Eggers adds an additional slot in his very dark-centric film slate and leaves you wanting more violence, more chaos and more unbridled historic accuracy.