Quick-Thoughts: Robert Eggers’ The Northman

I think it’s awesome how Eggers shot this like a Naughty Dog video game. God do I f**king love long takes.

In all 137 minutes of brooding, virtually heartless, and testosterone-wedged human malice, Robert Eggers only offers his audience but a brief glimpse of mercy that wanes away though so forthwith that your attempt to catch a breath is ominously meant to disorient you even more so for the rest which ensues. Bearing in mind that this is a contemporary big studio production, I am quite shocked by how much is supposedly not held back — because it seems as if nothing is. Manifesting the hunger of a carnivore, socializing the captured to rape, massacring children for your own future; the hardcore yet truthful nature of what’s shown here is excruciating. Thus, get this through your head right now: every character in The Northman was forged from the depths of hell. The sole value they possess though that could make you believe them tender: to prosper a worthy bloodline in their eyes, in the name of Valhalla. 

From accounts of the Salem Witch Trial, to writer Edgar Allen Poe, and now to the play king himself William Shakespeare, The Northman is another expert cinematic adaptation on behalf of Eggers. In the name of Hamlet (1603) though, it’s not quite a Lion King (1994) level accomplishment in terms of either augmenting or rejuvenating the household story — if anything, it sort of bludgeons such superior venture to smithereens with its masculine, narrow-minded drive back from any intellectual or morally alternative meanings which is, to be fair, appropriately consistent with the dominating vibe of the film’s historical pawns and perhaps the surface of the Amleth mythology’s revenge loop of equitably blamable scapegoats that’s needed to represent the savage Viking custom accurately. So in spite of the dramatic source material it tells being familiar, it’s rather how the film is told with its detail-oriented concentration on the ancient Icelandic time period and heightened visual surrealism to compliment their inhabitants’ fantasy-esc superstitions for which turns the picture into a visual spectacle that artificially yet ever so gorgeously pierces our interest and respect as it should given it mimics the perspective of these foreign, over-speculative characters, even if they are disagreeable to our modern ideologies. Like Eggers himself once said: “You can’t be judgmental of the characters and the time period. You can’t rewrite history to conform to the zeitgeist.”

The Northman doesn’t flow seamlessly in every respect — conflicting editing decisions stalk over its fidgety progression — but every isolated moment of Anglo-Saxon theater performance or calculated violence is so hypnotically accomplished on their own rights that it’s difficult to not be in a trance with them, at least individually, similar to how Eggers’ previous efforts operated. If anything, they connect well enough regardless because of this expected dream logic chronology that has always been a trademark of the director’s unparalleled aesthetic. Sincerely to general blockbuster audiences reading this, prepare yourselves for some serious culture shock… and gore. *this and Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) would make for an INSANE double-feature* 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Robert Eggers Ranked

“The Northman” will be playing in theaters April 22nd.

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