The Northman deserves more than cult classic status

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In a recent In an interview, director Robert Eggers spoke about the experience of working on his first potential blockbuster. Northernernow, he said,literally epicas it adapts the Icelandic revenge saga and costs over $70 million. This budget allowed him to indulge in glitzy cinematic extravagance: the studio built three whole villages and many Viking ships for him. Eggers’ last film. Lighthouseshare value Northernerbudget and wouldn’t lose much of his power if he put it all in one room.

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However, Eggers also admitted that, had he been offered a remake, he could have completed a medium-sized project between his Two Guys at the Lighthouse and his big Viking film. Northerner have a budget comparable to Morbius This inevitably means that the industry will be watching to see if a big adventure film without comic book characters can make any money. On the studio’s side, this fact, combined with Eggers’ previous release featuring a healthy dose of art house tentacle masturbation, meant the film attracted frenetic marketing, comparing it to much older successes in the genre. Posters (when they actually bore the name of the movie) are adorned with the inscription “this is the generation Gladiator”; in New Yorker interview, Eggers called Braveheart. According to him, the general feeling is that if it’s not one of those films, “we’re fucked.”

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The age of these two comparisons is indicative. Gladiator, the most recent of which came out 22 years ago, and both predated the current superhero franchise boom. Eggers acknowledged the structure of the modern film landscape, admitting that he was interested in comic book characters as a child, but that the medieval world and “sea creatures and satyrs and savages and demons really repelled him.” Surprised to shame in my eyes. As such, Northerner, then it’s more gore than Thor, an artistic offering that will likely achieve cult classic status before hitting the box office. He’s on track to make $8 million to $12 million in the US this weekend, and while it’s not a penny, it’s a lot lower, let’s say Spiderman weekend opening. It’s also a shame. Eggers’ film is formally bold and visually rich and deserves a wide audience.

Northerner opens with a volcanic eruption. The blond boy looks out from his island kingdom, grinning. He can see his father, the king played by Ethan Hawke, return with his uncle Fjolnir (Clas Bang). However, the king is wounded and informs his queen (Nicole Kidman) that it is time for young Amleth to become a man, a ritual in which the king and son crawl down a muddy tunnel into a cave temple, howling like dogs while Willem Dafoe chants to them, the flame of the torch burns in his sunken eyes. Afterwards, they walk through the forest, the perfect place for Fjolnir to commit jealous fratricide. Amlet cuts off the guard’s nose and runs away rowing to safety, singing “I will avenge you father, I will save your mother, I will kill you Fjolnir!”

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Several decades have passed and Amleth has become a grown man, a ludicrously torn berserker who howls at the moon and gnaws the throats of his enemies. Northerner based on the Viking story of Amlet, an Icelandic folk tale; Shakespeare relied on the 13th century version recorded in History of the Danesbehind Hamlet. But unlike the Danish prince, Amlet is a psychopathic monster who watches his countrymen burn children alive. After he hears that the slaves they captured are to be sold to his uncle, he marks himself with a brand impersonating one of them and hides with Olga, a witch played by Anya Taylor-Joy.

Eggers’ style is to mix horror with history. Accuracy, he says, is not essential for period films, but it does give a useful structure to the stories he wants to tell. His first film Witch, which costs $4 million, follows a family in 17th-century New England who leave the safety of a village after a religious dispute. Their new home is inevitably located around the perimeter of a ridiculously creepy dark forest. Witches, according to Eggers, are women who do not live up to society’s expectations of them, religious or otherwise. This rebellion turns them, in the fantasies of their accusers, into child-abducting Satanists. The film’s clever twist is to take this transformation literally: at the end of the film, the innocent Thomasin, played by Taylor-Joy, has no choice but to embrace witchcraft, selling her soul for survival and a “taste of butter.”

Lighthouse, also an American horror story, is even less commercially appealing. It focuses on two lighthouse keepers or wiccas – one veteran (Willem Dafoe), one newcomer (Robert Pattinson) – stuck at their island post. A bit of a farcical fever, both men are jesters: Defoe, for example, is closer to Captain Haddock than Captain Ahab, and demands that Neptune kill Pattinson because he refuses to praise his lobster dinner.

In other words, Eggers was not many people’s first choice for a commercial film, and his interview responses do suggest that he had a hard time compromising for a wide audience. He quoted Andrei Tarkovsky. Andrey Rublev as an influence, but said that “it is far from being so good, and Tarkovsky would hate [The Northman] every drop of his Russian soul. He did not like the process of spectator testing (although admitted this may have made the film more interesting), suggested that the inclusion of the Valkyries was probably “unpleasant” but necessary in a commercial picture, and stated that he was “sick” of thinking about the film at all. (The latter, to be honest, is true for most artists after they’ve finished their work.)

It is surprising then that Northerner very similar to a Robert Eggers film. Other than that, this movie is like nothing else. Gladiator. Firstly, there is little court politicking in this film. (Northernerso it doesn’t look like Game of Thrones: Why make plans when you can act?) Instead, Eggers focuses on visually gorgeous battles filmed in grueling single takes influenced by Hungarian director Miklós Jancso. It features strange rituals: berserkers (or bear serkers, you know?) beat their chests and dance in animal skins, while a shaman dressed as Odin casts spells on the fire. The craftsmanship of their helmets alone suggests that the accuracy of the Viking world was given great attention. Asterix and Obelix, they are not.

Eggers refers to his films as archetypal stories: Northerner Jungian is filled with symbols and signs. The recurring is a kind of tree of life that links Amleth’s past and future lineage with luminous blue roots. And like all Eggers films, this one has an iconic animal. AT Witch it was the devil goat, Black Phillip; in Lighthouse it was a one-eyed gull; here it is a flock of Odin’s ravens. These images are enhanced by Eggers and his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s preference for very close-ups and intricate storyboard shots. During the battle in the volcano, two warriors stop in profile, reflecting the moment from sleep sequence in Lighthouse.

The movie is like a comic book in places. But maybe because my mind is now floating in ancient ring, Northerner reminded me of a fantasy video game the most. The comparison first came to light during one of the film’s most obscenely brutal moments, when Amleth dismembers two enemies and rearranges their body parts in a bloodied Picasso. But then the resemblance seemed to be everywhere. The film’s settings work like quests: a journey through Iceland’s hot springs; destroy the enemy village. There is a stealth section where Amlet crawls through the houses, the silhouette of which is almost identical to Sekiro. There is a boss fight with the skeleton lord where Amlet has to push the king into the moonlight to damage him. There is even a mini-game Croquet from Hell, in which players smash each other’s skulls with hammers.

This feeling comes from Amlet himself. He doesn’t look like at all GladiatorMaximus, the rude good guy. Instead, he is a clumsy power fantasy, asshole, closer to Kratos in god of War. The film’s amplified, sometimes stilted lines can be plucked straight out of the RPG’s dialogue tree: Amleth describes himself as “a hail of vengeance and steel” and tells Taylor-Joy, “I never loved, only felt rage.” This tone may be the film’s biggest weakness. Amleth is single-minded, his motives are shallow, and his destiny is sealed. We know how this movie ends from the very beginning.

Myth has always been a good setting for games, so these coincidences are not surprising. The myth also provided good fodder for cult classics (hello Xena). Perhaps, though, RPG fans – and those fueling the current Viking resurgence – will help Eggers rob the audience of all the superheroes currently in the spotlight. He deserved it.


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