The Northman

THE NORTHMAN is the new one from Robert Eggers (THE WITCH), his version of a badass viking revenge story. Of course that’s filtered through his arcane sensibilities, making it a cousin to David Lowery’s fantasy-by-way-of-A24 movie THE GREEN KNIGHT and, moreso, Nicolas Winding Refn’s VALHALLA RISING. It’s actually a little bit more straightforward and traditionally entertaining than either of those, or at least doesn’t descend into an abyss of strangeness with no visible exit sign. But it’s not GLADIATOR either. It won’t pass as a movie made for normal people.

It has a basis in Icelandic folklore, especially versions of the story of Amleth, which inspired Hamlet. Eggers wrote it with an Icelandic author named Sjón, who wrote REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE and LAMB, but also grew up with Bjork, co-wrote some of her songs and performed with The Sugarcubes under the name “Johnny Triumph,” so he got her to have a cameo as a prophetic witch or whatever. A significant casting coup there in my opinion. She doesn’t act that much but it would be cool if this gave her the bug again and then she got to be a villain in FAST X or something.

Alexander Skarsgård, who I thought was excellent in THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, brings those same rock-like shoulders and enormous Jack-Kirby-designed fingers to another shirtless barbarian role, Amleth, a slave determined to avenge the murder of his father, King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke, THE EXPLORERS) and abduction of his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman, BATMAN FOREVER) by his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB), now known as Fjölnir the Brotherless. The guy is a sonofabitch but I kinda respect the audacity of trying to make his greatest sin into a cool nickname.

Li’l Amleth (Oscar Novak) actually witnesses his father being killed and his mother being carried off. They intend to get him too but he cuts the nose off of his attacker (Eldar Skar, SONJA: THE WHITE SWAN) so the guy tries to save face (get it?) by claiming to have killed him. (Later that guy’s called Finnr the Nose-Stub and just has a skeleton hole instead of a nose.) Amleth escapes in a canoe chanting, “I will avenge you father! I will save you mother! I will kill you Fjölnir!”

Kids, huh?

So he ends up raised by Vikings, grows into Skarsgård, learns how to battle, etc. One day after some pillage-related activities he meets Bjork, who tells him a prophecy about taking revenge on Fjölnir. So he starts chanting that to-do list again and sneaks onto a slave ship to get close to his uncle. Living as a slave he finds that his mom is now married to Fjölnir and has a young son named Gunnar (Elliott Rose).

Fjölnir’s older son Thorir the Proud (Gustav Lindh, RIDERS OF JUSTICE) notices Amleth’s fighting prowess and uses him for some tasks, acting like he’s doing him a huge favor. This guy has the absolute perfect look for an entitled douchebag within this world, from the face to the hipster goatee to the viking version of a fur coat.

Amleth also meets Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy, PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE), a slave who’s at an extra risk because of her long blond hair, but seems good at defending herself. She says she’s a sorceress and helps Amleth to plot his retribution.

My only complaint about the movie is that it’s so visually dark, even during the day time, I felt like I had to keep squinting. Maybe that was a projection problem, I don’t know. Like THE WITCH, this has a a constant muddy, overcast bleakness to go with its historical verisimilitude. I love how it can feel realistic while also taking all the mythical shit literally. Ravens and wolves contribute to the cause. He gets a sword called “the Night Blade” that cannot be drawn during daylight. Touching blood gives him visions. He has an important talk with Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe, SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL)’s severed, mummified head.

Eggers doesn’t seem overly concerned with respectability. I swear Ethan Hawke talks in a Christopher Lambert voice. Kidman seems like a damsel in distress and then suddenly has a big scene where she does some wonderful mega-acting. She also gets to yell “KILL HIM!” like she’s Rita Repulsa or somebody. I love it.

One of my favorite things in the world is a movie that fuses pulpy genre entertainment with some weird, arty shit. For me the sweet spot is usually leaning closer to the pulp side, which is not the case here, but that’s okay. I’m up for it. I can take it. Better yet, this one also has something to say that speaks to me. Eggers has found a way to deliver on the Viking shit – Amleth is really viking some motherfuckers up, let me tell you – while still playing to me like a critique of the alphas-and-betas overcompensating manliness horse shit that plagues our own culture(s) to this day.

I’d never heard an interview with Eggers until he was on WTF recently. He seems cool because he’s not into the same stuff most people are into and has his own esoteric obsessions, but seems to have zero pretension about it. And he gives a surprisingly concise explanation of what he tries to do in his movies: depict the beliefs of the time without judgment. He gives one example of where his own feelings about it bleed in, but he’s trying not to do that.

Maybe that’s why THE NORTHMAN so successfully has its cake and eats it too. To me it works like a good samurai tale or a Paul Verhoeven sci-fi movie – it stays fiercely dedicated to the point of view of its world, doesn’t give us a speech about how it’s bad, allows us to figure out on our own that even though it plays like a happy ending when the hero chooses to die violently rather than go off to live with his new love and unborn twins, perhaps this world view is not super great.

300 kinda had that approach too, but it was taken as a sincere celebration of these attitudes by many people who liked what they thought it was selling. I’m sure that will happen here too, and there might even be some of those well-meaning people who think it would be better if it spoon fed us a lesson with a bunch of flashing arrows pointing at it. (The WOLF OF WALL STREET argument.) To which I can only quote what the character Michael Bolton said in OFFICE SPACE when asked why he doesn’t go by “Mike” so as not to be confused with the singer Michael Bolton: “No way. Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”

Let me get into some more serious SPOILERS so I can dissect some stuff I see here.

On the surface this seems like a simple revenge story. He announces from childhood what he’s gonna do: “I will avenge you Father. I will save you Mother. I will kill you Fjölnir.” In some movies the satisfaction of a story element like that is anticipating him crossing off each line of his KILL BILL death list.

But in THE NORTHMAN, none of those things turn out to be as cut and dry as it seemed to him as a kid.

#1 – He can’t fully avenge his father because Fjölnir doesn’t even have the kingdom to steal back – he was since usurped and is now running this little village in Iceland like a chump. Also, his father doesn’t deserve to be avenged at all, because his mother reveals she was actually his slave and rape victim.

#2 – He’s not gonna save his mother because she wasn’t abducted, she was in on it and is happily with Fjölnir now. In fact he has to kill her!

#3 – I guess he can still kill Fjölnir though, so you don’t feel let down. You get a naked sword fight next to an erupting volcano. Many – arguably even most – movies these days don’t have a naked sword fight next to an erupting volcano. Thanks alot, Marvel.

The rite of passage at the beginning of the movie also seems like kind of a goof on masculinity. The ritual involves father and son crawling into a cave pretending to be dogs, barking and growling at each other, slopping up bowls of bone water. Then they must prove to Heimir that they are men, not animals, and the way they do this is by burping and farting. (The latter implies that they are not actually familiar with dogs.)

The most fucked up thing about this ceremony is that the king makes his son promise to avenge him if he’s ever killed, after we’ve already seen him tell his wife he wants to die in battle. So he’s trying to make sure his son lives a life of violence like he did. The motherfucker. (It’s so perfectly mythical that he gets killed immediately after this. And seems surprised.)

After Amleth has his teen years running with that rough Viking crowd there’s this really powerful scene of the raid on Rus. I heard some criticism of the fighting, but I sure didn’t notice. I love the way the camera sort of floats through this melee without seeming to be attached to Amleth, but always keeping him as its focal point. You know that he’s the most badass guy in a big group of badasses because he’s the one who catches a spear and tosses it back! You start off a oner with that and follow this guy battering through every person he encounters and you can’t help but get pumped up. But the shot ends on him staring at a barricaded door on a barn that’s rattling as children try to get out and Amleth’s buddies set it on fire. So, uh. Maybe this was not the most heroic victory.

Another really memorable scene is when Amleth is enslaved and his douchey cousin makes him participate in a violent sport – apparently it’s called knattleikr – which is kind of like football with bats. They’re allowed to beat the shit out of each other, so of course (after some hesitation about what he can get away with) he’s a natural.

On the sidelines Amleth’s little half brother Gunnar is getting way too into the game, a very recognizable form of over-the-top sports fan hooting and hollering, in this case literally calling for blood. And then he gets so into the game that he actually runs onto the field and tries to run off with the ball.

The Queen and everybody freak out, their baby boy has just done something unfathomably idiotic, and an enormous player on the opposing team named Thorfinnr (6’ 9” champion strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, KICKBOXER: RETALIATION) is about to pulverize him into a pile of moosh. Luckily Amleth intervenes and savagely headbutts Thorfinnr over and over as if hammering a nail with his face.

The terrified Queen runs out to cradle her kid’s limp body, crying and begging, but when he does turn out to be alive she praises his toughness. “Just like a chieftain’s son!” she says, suddenly proud of the dumb little shit for very nearly being crushed into pulp in front of her eyes just because he got too excited about a stupid fucking game. That’s the culture. Seems weirdly familiar for some reason.

In the end, Amleth comes face to face with a prophecy that he would have to choose between kindness toward his kin and hatred for his enemies. And we are so engulfed in the fantasy sword guy world that that doesn’t seem like the most obvious multiple choice test ever given. Duh, dude. Give up the hatred. (Also, did your mom count as kin or enemy?)

Amleth is about to leave to start a new life with Olga, but his magic blood-reading powers tell him she’s pregnant with twins, and he has a eureka moment: he can do both the hatred and the kindness!

But in his interpretation kindness to his kin means dying in battle because he thinks leaving Fjölnir alive endangers them. Classic macho man hero shit. To be fair, he is breaking the chain of vengeance, and I appreciate that. He’s not doing what his dad did, expecting his kids to avenge him. And he’s covering his tracks, killing the guy that’s killing him. The only person those kids will have left to avenge is the deadbeat who abandoned them and their mother because he thought it was more important to have one cool sword fight than to live and love and find happiness.

I hope you get as much out of this as I did. If not, you will still enjoy all the cool-ass shit that I didn’t even go into here.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 at 12:05 am and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

48 Responses to “The Northman”

  1. I loved it! It’s Arthouse Badass but also made by a guy who appreciates Conan. Nicole Kidman had a great monologue, but then again the whole cast was impeccable. It’s a rare movie of this scale that gets to be this intimate & earthy. I highly recommend The King with Timothee if you like this one, they’re similarly elegant and awesome

  2. I had to go see it twice (I liked it that much)

  3. I thought it was great and just the right balance of the badassness you’d hope to see with some grounded characterisation, and making the supernatural stuff just ambiguous enough to still allow a fight with an undead crypt guardian and vision of Valkyrie while also allowing it to possibly just be the state of this guy’s mind due to his obsession and upbringing.

  4. I loved the cool ass shit, loved the dead king in his longship under the mound in there moonlight. But, I do think this would have been better served as a 90 minute lean and mean brutal pulp picture. You could still end it with the revelation that Amleths quest was all for naught but it wouldn’t leave you so much time to ponder what it’s all about only to find out it’s not really about much at all.

    Anyway what I really wanted to say is that Amleth could have and should have wrecked house on his uncle day 1. A berserker (bearzerker) like him should not want to spend three nights enacting some elaborate revenge scheme. 2. The ship captain at the end watching Amleth jump off the ship was the most Terry Pratchett thing, I could envision an entire disc world novel of him watching heroes do dumb shit

  5. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this once it’s streaming somewhere, or on Blu-Ray. I loved THE VVITCH but haven’t seen THE LIGHTHOUSE. Here’s a thought I had after reading about this movie, and about Eggers in general, though: THIS is the guy who should film Cormac McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN.

  6. I was really fascinated by the expectation vs. reality of Amleth’s revenge story. He bound himself to vengeance and accepted this as his destiny, but when he began doing the revenge, he found it that it was much different than he imagined it would be.

    During the movie, I wondered if he would find his mother wouldn’t want to be rescued, but I was shocked when it turned out not only did she not want to be rescued, but killing BOTH Aurvandil and Amleth was HER IDEA.

    I loved the scene when he goes to fetch the Night Blade, imagines this epic fight with the dead king holding it, but then just goes over and picks it up.

    I also thought it was interesting that when he was captured, instead of a Valkyrie saving him, it turned out to be Olga.

    The film felt much more held back in regards to the artsy, “is it real or isn’t it”, mysticism type stuff compared to both The VVitch and The Lighthouse (which I think is Eggers best film, followed closely by Northman), but it still toed that line. It didn’t seem to reach the fever dream levels of the two aforementioned films, but maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much-it DID have some of the mysticism in it (snake turning to rope, Night Blade only able to be used at night or at the gates of Hel, the trippy family tree moments, talking to Dafoe’s dead head through a mystic, the Bjork character reigniting his fate), but constantly had me (and Amleth as well) questioning what was really happening vs the expectation of what would happen based on the lore/religion/etc. of the story. I legitimately wondered a few times of Amleth would actually turn into a wolf, and I’m glad he didn’t because he didn’t need to.

    Did the valkyrie actually take him to Valholl at the end or was it just Amleth’s imagination as he died? In the story sense, I guess it only matters to Amleth.

    Eggers continues to impress. Hopefully the dreary box office won’t dissuade studios from continuing to support his films.

  7. I’m not gonna get too deep into this, because I’m sure everybody knows how I’m gonna feel about this movie (For the record: THE VVITCH = the fucking worst; THE LIGHTHOUSE = almost as terrible but watchable in a rubbernecking-at-the-trainwreck kinda way), but I gotta ask: Why is it that making an exciting viking movie is like making a better-than-average Duane Johnson vehicle? You’d think it would be a no-brainer but history has shown that it is all but impossible to achieve. Viking movies seem to be one of those things that always claim to be deconstructing something, but nobody can ever point to an example of the thing they’re deconstructing. Like, where are these unironic viking movies full of vainglorious bloodshed and over-the-top action that all these hipster directors feel a burning desire to take down a peg with their grounded greyscale bullshit? Because I’d really like to see one of those. Maybe then I could see the impulse to take what should by all rights be an easy layup of a fantasy adventure about bearded dudes with big axes who fight trolls and give each other the PREDATOR handshake and turn all that into a desaturated slog about dirty people struggling through a marsh and dying unfulfilled. Like, we had to have real westerns before we could have UNFORGIVEN. Actual superhero movies before we could do KICKASS. Where are the real viking movies these artsy fucks are subverting? They sound awesome.

  8. Majestyk- You might wanna check out the upcoming Zack Snyder/Jay Oliva Netflix animated series TWILIGHT OF THE GODS, which is going to be based on Norse mythology and will probably rock the Norse feel visually. As for why we don’t get a lot of meat and potatoes Viking movies currently, I guess because it’d be kind of hard to be faithful to the Viking ethos of looting, killing, raping and enslaving people and creating a likeable hero protagonist. What I’ve seen of the show VIKINGS wasn’t subverting it, but it didn’t glamourise that stuff particularly either. Even the most recent Assassin’s Creed game has you as a Viking, who’s ostensibly the “good guy”, but still has sacking monasteries and raiding villages as a side activity.
    Though I do also yearn for some more epic stuff played straight than we tend to get these days. I’ve always wanted to see The Odyssey done on the big screen, or at least as a big budget mini-series (Armand Assante’s version from the 90s aside).

  9. Thank you for the recommendation, but the words “Zack Snyder Netflix animated series” make me want to go back to bed and stay there for the rest of my life.

  10. Like, where are these unironic viking movies

    The Vikings (1958) - IMDb

    The Vikings: Directed by Richard Fleischer. With Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Leigh. A slave and a Viking prince fight for the love of a captive princess.

  11. I did not mean to imply this is subverting viking movies. I gave my interpretation of what it’s about but as I said, this does not seem to be Eggers’ intent.

    I have to object to classifying *this guy* as a hipster. I guess I only know him from that WTF episode, but I feel like I’m way closer to the definition of a hipster than he is. He’s a guy who’s into theater production design and history. He only wants to do period pieces. He seems very humble, shy and unpretentious. I guarantee you he hates going to parties. He seems uninterested in pop culture but not the type who’s gonna keep telling you that or who will seem a little embarrassed when he admits that.

    My review of THE WITCH preserved an IMDb bulletin board of some doofus condemning him for looking like a hipster in his photo, and there was a recent Twitter dustup where some goofball argued he was a white supremacist based on his haircut. This stuff is stupid. I don’t think you should watch it, Majestyk, because I think you would use it as a check list of all the things you hate that it represents. But I honestly think if you could’ve somehow watched it without all these notions about what it represents to other people who you hate you might’ve loved it, because it’s a great fuckin movie.

  12. In fact, Majestyk, I took the liberty of checking if you commented on VALHALLA RISING. I think you might appreciate that this take on pretty similar material sticks to the mythical structure it sets out on and doesn’t melt into a bunch of ambiguous symbolism in place of narrative. I liked VALHALLA much more than you, but I prefer that stuff to be attached to a solid skeleton.

  13. I don’t give a shit about what it represents to other people, Vern. I don’t even talk to other people. Fuck other people. If I didn’t watch movies because people I hate like them, I wouldn’t watch movies. I wouldn’t piss in a Marvel stan’s mouth if his teeth were on fire but I love those movies all the same. I don’t know how you got the idea that this was my main bone of contention and not the fact that this entire school of filmmaking bores the ever-loving shit out me. I–me, this motherfucker right here typing this–HATE this approach all on its own merits. Yeah, maybe you’re right, if my opinions on lugubrious bullshit passing itself off as an exciting genre movie hadn’t been calcified by years of suffering through lugubrious bullshit passing itself off as an exiting genre movie–two of them made by this exact director right here–I might have more of an open mind. But we can’t go back in time so here we are. I’m not any happier about it than you are.

  14. As you can see from my comments about VALHALLA RISING, Vern, I have been opposed to these phony baloney half-speed athouse anti-genre movies since before A24 even existed. This is not a reactionary “I hate BAND X because that’s what the dude-bros who picked on me in high school listened to” kind of opinion. I’m sorry for being defensive, but it’s not great to see my consistent point of view that has been developed over many years of research dismissed as sour grapes by someone I respect.

    I’m sure I will enjoy THE NORTHMAN more than VALHALLA RISING, though. I almost couldn’t enjoy it less.

  15. Never mind. I’m pissed at myself for even bringing it up. I woke up this morning and said to myself, “Whatever you do, DO NOT comment on the NORTHMAN review. You haven’t seen the movie and have no intention to anytime soon, so all you will be doing is reiterating the same tired old bullshit that Vern has SPECIFICALLY said bums him out.” But here I am.

  16. GREAT fuckin movie. Viking Hamlet, what a great idea. I love how the movie has a lot of thematic stuff going on under the hood, as others have mentioned, but is also a fully functioning viking revenge tale the does not skimp on the good stuff. The fight in the crypt with the zombie knight could have been a boss fight in Elden Ring, and the punchline to the decapitation had me rolling in the aisles. Finally we got a movie that fully takes advantage of Alex Skarsgaard, the biggest, handsomest, craziest guy in Hollywood. And I love how it turns into a sports movie for about five minutes; wasn’t expecting that, but it was perfect.
    Anyway, very happy with this one, more please.

  17. THE 13TH WARRIOR was a popular straight-up viking movie. I remember people baggin on it but I always liked it.

    As far as Eggers is concerned, I saw THE VVITCH and it was fine, but definitely not the greatest horror of the decade, or whatever. I was really annoyed by all the hype it got. Maybe I would’ve liked it more today, but at the time MORGAN was my preferred Anya Taylor-Joy vehicle. Haven’t seen THE LIGHTHOUSE, I plan on watching it at some point. Same goes for THE NORTHMAN.

    I listened to an interview with Eggers on some horror podcast and he came of as an annoying history nerd to me. Someone whos gonna give you shit for liking something that’s not accurate. Or wax poetically about some boring crap because a lot of research went into it. I mean, I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice guy, but because I haven’t really enjoyed his movies so far, I’m sort of sceptical.

  18. This interview just came out where he explains where he’s coming from a bit
    ““A lot of people have been interpreting the film as humorless, which is too bad,” he says, smiling broadly. “Maybe the humor is too dry, but there are a lot of dry one-liners in the sagas, and ways in which they can read like ’80s action movies. In Njáls saga, Skarphéðinn slides across the ice, bashes a guy’s head in with an ax, then says some version of ‘That’s what I call a headache!’”

    Norse Power: Robert Eggers Revives the Viking Age • Journal • A Letterboxd Magazine

    The Northman filmmaker Robert Eggers discusses the sacred and sublime of his sinewy Viking revenge epic, as well as what he learned from watching Miklós Jancsó and Moana.


  19. Majestyk – I apologize. I understand how that was insulting. I consider you a friend even though it’s just over the internet and also, separately, I respect your opinions on movies. I think your tastes are very distinct to you and I don’t mean to say they’re a reaction to other people. That would not be accurate.

    What happened in this case is I, a person who thought THE WITCH was kinda boring and unfulfilling and have not yet seen THE LIGHTHOUSE, fucking loved THE NORTHMAN and can’t wait to discuss it with people who also love this type of shit, people who could very well include you! You know this is one of the things I treasure in life – a movie by a weirdo that has somehow broken through the studio system, that fulfills many of the things I want in a genre movie but in a weird way that you’re surprised they got away with. And that’s good enough that I now want to rewatch his first movie to see if I was missing something. And makes me want to listen to interviews with him for the first time. It’s a great fuckin movie, I swear to you!

    I would be so excited if you watched it and it turned out to be one of the ones that surprised you, because I can imagine you would have a great way of describing its kick-ass-ness and some takes on what’s going on in it that I wouldn’t have thought of. So I was disappointed that you pre-emptively slagged on it for reasons that I don’t think are accurate to the movie or what I said about it, and called the director a hipster.

    You’re right, in my mind I combined what you were actually saying with the ongoing war between people I like and the evil menace of A24 and hipsters. This most recently flared up when my friends at Action For Everyone spent a month or two being cynical about EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (which they obviously ended up loving) because of who was releasing it and who they thought it was meant for, when I thought they should’ve been looking forward to an unusual looking movie starring the one and only Michelle Yeoh with action by great new choreographers *they* turned me on to!

    Like you, these are my internet buddies with all kinds of knowledge, talent and insight well beyond my own, I’m not trying to diminish them, but I felt they were having kneejerk reactions about what some imaginary hipster was gonna say about the movie and not the actual movie. I’m positive I do it too! But it frustrates me when I think I see it because it’s a barrier between people I like and movies I think could bring them joy.

    The other thing is, I think you can count on my reviews to make a clear distinction between “this is kind of boring but I respect it intellectually” and “this movie is awesome!” This one is a “this movie is awesome!” review, but your reply seems to assume I’m wrong and it’s definitely the other one. I get these comments semi-regularly (not from you) that I read as “great review, haven’t seen the movie, but I assume every word you said was a lie and here’s why.” I feel disrespected by that and write my jerkiest replies, I guess.

    But come to think of it the colorlessness of the cinematography in THE NORTHMAN would definitely piss you off, and I can’t really defend it, so I shouldn’t push my luck trying to make a case for you. On the other hand he has a sword that can only be drawn in darkness and it’s called the Night Blade. Come on, man! He also has animal friends although unfortunately they don’t have names like in BEAST MASTER or WOLFHOUND.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to have my ongoing frustrations butt heads with yours again. As always I appreciate you and hope you understand it’s important to me to resolve conflicts and try to improve myself.

  20. Too late Majestyk – I was already writing a long-ass response!

  21. daniel – I wish I had the specific quote, but in the WTF interview he makes a point of saying that the amount of historical accuracy in a movie doesn’t make it better or worse, that it’s just what he likes to do for his.

  22. Anyway, I’ve been hoping to meet someone who mistakenly calls it THE NORSEMAN but every time he says it it sounds like he’s trying to do an accent or something.

  23. Thank you for the response, Vern. I apologize—again—for bringing this negativity into your house. I will try to keep in mind the fact that you didn’t like THE VVITCH very much but liked this one anyway. Most of the positive opinions I’ve seen are of the “Wow, the third masterpiece in a row from this unequivocal genius!” variety so I feel safe discounting them out of hand. Not saying they’re “wrong” but clearly anyone who really loved his last two movies is looking for a very different cinematic experience than I am. You’re not coming from that perspective, though, so I should just take your word for it that this is a movie that even a guy who once compared THE LIGHTHOUSE to an MTV Movie Awards parody of itself could enjoy.

    Honestly, I wish I just didn’t know who directed it. I can only assume from this guy’s previous work that any form of excitement causes him to break out in hives, so the thought of him being capable of producing any kind of thrilling badass cinema is more than my imagination is capable of. Again, I should just take your word for it.

  24. Honestly when it was mentioned that it was long I had to look it up because it seemed about 100 minutes to me. But I guess I wouldn’t put money on you feeling the same.

  25. Get a room, you two, lol.

    Could have just said “not a fan of Eggers or his style, gonna pass on this one.” It’s perfectly fine to just dislike things or directors. No need to vehemently justify, but it would at least been interesting and worth reading coming from the perspective of having seen it.

    The commentary against it is quite passionate for not having seen it, a la Tim Heidecker on On Cinema.

  26. We have moved on, MB. Have you seen it yet?

  27. I did-scroll up toward the top of the comments.

  28. I loved THE GREEN KNIGHT WHO FUCKS. Seeing it again this weekend. The part where Amleth catches the spear and throws it back got a big gasp/cheer from the audience (even though it was in the trailer).

    Really like Dave Egger’s approach to mysticism and the supernatural in general, and in THE NORTHMAN in particular. It’s presented somewhat ambiguously, but in such an intoxicating fashion and with such cultural specificity, that believing it is the only thing that makes sense. I’ve rarely seen a film that puts you in a cultural headspace quite as effectively as Eggers’. The panning shot from the aftermath of Amleth’s battle with the undead warrior to him standing at the throne, imagining it in his head, is a good example (also, big CONAN THE BARBARIAN vibes!)

    For all its brutality, I think this movie also has a sly sense of humour that slips by a lot of people. I like the part where Fjolnir’s men are arguing about who could have possibly committed a horrible murder of some soldiers and end up blaming the Christian slaves (one guy remarks they have a dead god who was nailed to a tree). Meanwhile Amoleth, this hulking monster of a man, is standing there with slouched shoulders trying to look inconspicuous. That made me laugh.

    Also, I think it’s funny that both this and THE LIGHTHOUSE have a fart joke with Willem Dafoe. Hopefully this can become Egger’s directorial trademark, like Raimi’s Oldsmobile. (Also reminded me of APOCALYPTO, which also grounded it’s very specific cultural milleu through the global language of fart/poop jokes)

  29. Sorry MB, I meant to ask if you’ve seen the movie, to see if you liked it.

  30. Well, while taking Maj’s point that–is it really necessary that a revenge movie and/or Viking movie make a point of how these are bad things in real life when, duh? That’s the same tiresome motherfucker bullshit as wanting Batman to examine his billionaire privilege–I think the movie was at least more than half committed to having fun with sex and ultraviolence. Did it glorify in it the way the one good Conan the Barbarian movie ever did? No, but that’s because John Milius is a crazy man and he was lucky enough to be in Hollywood while everyone was too high on cocaine to know better than to let him film the good shit.

    Long story short: you had me at ‘Willem Dafoe as a Viking court jester.’

  31. Also (Spoilers for, uhh, the first fifteen minutes of a two hour plus movie) I’m a bit surprised to see so many seeing Ethan Hawke (not even going to try and spell his character name) and Amleth’s coming-of-age ritual as some searing indictment of toxic masculinity and not a pretty amicably goofy way for father and son to bond–especially innocuous considering the time period and culture. I mean, if I saw a father getting on all fours with his young son and barking like a dog, I probably wouldn’t think “the horrors of Norway!”

    Yeah, Before Midnight does lay the vengeance thing on Amleth, but note that’s after Amleth takes a hallucinogen, so is that something Daybreakers literally said to him or is it a vision from the gods or a hallucination of something Amleth already believes just from the culture he’s grown up in? If Boyhood *hadn’t* told Amleth to avenge him, would he have taken his father’s death and the whole mother thing in stride?

    I don’t know… so, to add on to my last post, is Eggers/the movie trying for a searing indictment or is that us as an audience reading too much into the whole arthouse A24 thing instead of taking the scene at face value?

  32. As I said in the review, he says he means to present it without judgment. But we’re human beings with our own non-Viking values, so we can have our own opinions of it when we watch. If he had meant us to take an anti-making-a-little-kid-vow-to-dedicate-his-life-to-murdering-somebody message out of it I don’t think that should be considered very controversial or divisive. I hope.

  33. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    April 27th, 2022 at 7:57 pm

    I called it THE NORSEMAN [sic] to my roommate after seeing it yesterday. Upon leaving the theater, my feelings were mixed-to-positive, like glad I saw it but I wasn’t sure it entirely worked. But a day of thinking about it later and Vern’s review right here and I’m already liking it more. I had some sort of spurious egghead unease while watching, maybe thinking that it’s impossible to imaginatively reenter the Norse age because it’s just too distant from us. I believe we can mostly enter the Puritan headspace, but not the Viking one. A movie about Vikings or ancient Egypt is basically fantasy, and fantasy should be more fun, right? Like Conan? What use verisimilitude?

    I realized that Robert Eggers is thinking about exactly the same shit I am. Unlike me, he made a movie. And people have a DEATH DUEL in front of an exploding volcano/gate to Hel What magic lamp did he rub to get 90 million to make this?

  34. Read up to the spoiler section (Thanks, Vern!) and I am looking forward to eventually seeing this one. The film’s beginning sounds like an improved CONAN THE BARBARIAN: parents killed (one captured in this case) and the kid goes aggro. Li’l Conan was a letdown in that respect (among other letdowns in the film). I mean, hey, if William Smith’s your dad, then you are legally required to gut some fools, not just get carted off to slave away on some wheel until you turn into a juiced-up bodybuilder.

    Looking forward to some NORTHMAN mayhem, is what I’m saying.

  35. THE NORTHMAN is fuckin’ metal. (I pronounce it “Northmin,” like his name is Thad Northman of the Milwaukee Northmans.) I did not think it was as murky and colorless as others here, so maybe it’s a matter of projection. There was a lot more green than I expected. Visually and tonally it reminded me THE GREEN KNIGHT, but this one turns the dial more towards the pulp– closer to my sweet spot.

    That first act– up until Amleth sneaks onto the boat– was just incredible, including that terrific oner I didn’t realize was a oner until like halfway through. It does slow down a bit after that, but this isn’t a slow-ass art movie. It’s a Viking vigilante revenge epic that looks like an art movie, so even the “slow” parts are punctuated by fights with ghost warriors and some weird rugby-meets-field-hockey game that reminded me of watching BLOOD OF HEROES and trying to figure out the unexplained rules.

    I was wondering why they cast Nicole Kidman for a nothing part, but then we get to *that* scene, and I understood. The story also plays to Alexander Skarsgard’s tactile and Anya Taylor-Joy’s ethereal strengths. I was convinced Young Amleth was one of Milla Jovovich’s kids, but apparently not.

    As far as Eggers’ previous films, I was not enchanted by THE VVITCH either, but maybe I should rewatch it now. I loved THE LIGHTHOUSE, which I see as a weird, funny, artsy-fartsy (literally) Lovecraftian nightmare with a furious Willem Dafoe performance. I like that Eggers researches obsessively, yet his movies thankfully do not play like smug annotated bibliographies, but as weird stories with a high attention to detail and presentation.

    I hope they somehow spin THE NORTHMAN into a series of direct-to-video Dolph Lundgren movies or something.

  36. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    April 28th, 2022 at 8:58 am

    We could create a delightful little microgenre out of film titles of the 10’s that aren’t really words: AVENGEMENT, REVENGER, THE NORTHMAN.

  37. @Bill Reed
    “his movies thankfully do not play like smug annotated bibliographies”

    I actually remember one bit from the THE VVITCH that did play like that for me. So I think what Eggers did in that movie is exactly what Vern writes is his thing: depicting the beliefs of the time without judgment. And that was kinda annoying, because he depicts backwards puritan beliefs as legitimate. But then he did an interview where he said that maybe the things depicted in the movie didn’t happen that way, because he gave a hint that the characters ate corn coverd in a hallucinogenic fungus. After hearing that, I was like: you gotta be kidding me, I’m supposed to know about corn fungi to get the secret meaning of this guys movie.

  38. I liked The VVitch, but if any story really needed a bit more distance from the attitudes of then and now, it was that one. But The Lighthouse was absolutely great, and I had a blast with the Northman. Not too long ago, Mrs. Batty and I were watching The Last Kingdom, and I was trying to explain my theory of what makes a good Viking movie or show. You can either try to ground it and make it historically accurate or you can go all out with the magic and myth. If you split the difference, it just doesn’t work.

    The Last Kingdom does the former because the “Danes” are pretty cool, but they don’t necessarily represent over-the-top aggressive wish fulfillment for the audience. (From what I’ve seen, this is basically what the show Viking does). The Northman works because it’s on the other end of the spectrum and leans into the weird medieval mysticism. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I can’t tell you where Kirk Douglass’s Viking movie fits on the spectrum.

    And, I do think there’s some good humor in the film, although I don’t necessarily need a movie to be funny to like it. I don’t particularly think criticizing a movie as humorless makes much sense. Still when Amleth’s little brother starts going full knattleikr hooligan, I laughed.

  39. This movie was pretty badass and I liked it a lot. Got some observations I thought I’d share with yall.

    -All three Eggers films are about an ancient isolated settlement succumbing to some percieved / actual supernatural threat. NORTHMAN fakes you out at first but as soon as he ended up in Fjölnir’s village I was like “ah, there it is!” And it compares extremely favorable to VVITCH in back to back viewings imo. I like both movies but he’s just a way more commanding filmmaker at this point and some of the filmatism he pulls off here is fucking insane.

    -That One Scene with Kidman is so, so good and the whole movie is a lot less interesting without it. Mom demonstrates that she was a slave by showing him the brand on her chest, and Amleth reacts uncertainly. Of course in part because one of the rules of revenge movies is not revising your hell-bentedness on revenge, but also because he branded his own chest to pretend to be a slave earlier in the film? But also it’s a moot point because how did Amleth and Olga meet: by his raping and pillaging her village! So Gudrún’s basic premise that Amleth is, well, a viking isn’t really arguable. But also SHE’S just as much part of this world, a person hardened by brutality and blood, and so everything she’s saying does have to be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe super obvious to point out but there you have it.

    -Olga gives weirdly little of a shit about any of this. Not that I wanted them to dwell on “but you’re a NORTHMAN!” bullshit but also she just kind of felt like a boring stock character to me. I will also say, hate to be mean to Taylor Joy and Skarsgård but god damn do they get circles run around them by Hawke and Kidman and Dafoe. I had the same issue with LIGHTHOUSE, where Pattinson just occasionally felt outmatched in a one-on-one with the greatest screen performance of all time or whatever. Not crippling to the film but something that occasionally broke my immersion.

    -I gotta say LIGHTHOUSE is still my favorite of his because it feels to me like Eggers is just slightly bored delivering on what he maybe thinks are perfunctory genre beats? He’s been vocal about how he hates VVITCH, and I can’t help but read between the lines a little when he says “yeah they locked me out of the editing room but I swear this is the movie I wanted to make” of NORTHMAN. LIGHTHOUSE seems like the one where he really got to let his instincts rip.

    -That said, VVITCH does one thing that I credit it with moreso than the latter two, which is that it has a bonkers ending that totally upends the entire film and like, answers its central conflict in a stunning and unexpected way. I am speaking of course of Blakk Fillop inviting our put-upon protagonist to cast aside this puritan bullshit and live deliciously. By contrast, LIGHTHOUSE and NORTHMAN end exactly how you think they’re going to, which is fine but a little deflating in my opinion. Also it was kind of mean to indicate that he was going to eventually reconquer his dad’s original kingdom and then have Fjölnir be the final boss.

    -I belly laughed at Kaplan referring to Ethan Hawke as “Before Midnight”.

    -I’ve been having the “who should adapt BLOOD MERIDIAN and who should play Judge” debate with others and mostly myself for years and I think burningambulance has the definitive answer. Let’s commit, Eggers directs with Dafoe as Judge. We who decide these things.

  40. @renfield
    “VVITCH does one thing that I credit it with moreso than the latter two, which is that it has a bonkers ending that totally upends the entire film and like, answers its central conflict in a stunning and unexpected way”

    I promise I’m gonna stop shitting on THE VVITCH after this, but I did not like that ending. After Satan, or God, or fate, or evil witches living in the woods, or whatever it was supposed to be, fucked up Taylor-Joy’s life and her family, and then asked her if she wants to live deliciously, that, to me, was not giving consent in an empowering decision, but making a resigned “I didn’t asked for this, but since my life is fucked I guess I’ll spend my time flying around a forest” decision. Although, to be fair, I suppose it is open to interpretation.

  41. She doesn’t act that much but it would be cool if this gave her the bug again and then she got to be a villain in FAST X or something.

    Damn Vern, Bjork as a tentpole movie villain.

    Why you gotta make us aware real life will never be this cool?

  42. @daniel

    Oh, right– I remember reading about the corn fungus. I think that’s a means for Eggers to have an “out” for the fantastical elements. Each movie can be interpreted as taking place in a mystical or supernatural world, or that stuff could just be in the characters’ heads. We get it also with the dreams and descent into madness in LIGHTHOUSE, and the visions in NORTHMAN. Eggers feels these are the characters’ beliefs in the given time period, and so presents them as literal, but leaves room for plausible deniability. If you’re a fan of cool movie shit, then the fantasy is real. If you’re a humorless literary art scholar, it can be imaginary. While NORTHMAN has scenes of hallucinations and visions and daydreams and stuff, it also has the Night Blade and an unkindness of ravens, so I feel it leans a little further toward the fantasy.

    It reminds of college English classes, reading my favorite book, Slaughterhouse-Five, and having the professor and a bunch of students espousing that the novel took place in Billy Pilgrim’s head and the Tralfamadorians were imagined and it was about trauma, etc. Cut to me looking around the room baffled. It’s much more interesting if the magic is real.

  43. Like I said above, I enjoyed The VVitch, but also thought it was somewhat overrated. But that comment about corn fungus is so damn stupid. Obviously, he’s borrowing from the idea that the Salem Witch Trials happened in part because of ergot on their bread, but I’m pretty sure that’s been debunked and no actual historians believe it anymore, although pop history still trots it out consistently. (My understanding is that it would be impossible for enough ergot to form on their bread to cause hallucinogenic properties. Also, witch trials have a long history. Are they all the result of moldy bread? It’s such a dumb theory). I haven’t seen The VVitch in years, but that dumb corn comment is going to make me retroactively hate it.

  44. re: The VVitch-I’m with @daniel on this one. The ending really bothers me. The devil was clearly behind what was happening, and Thomasin was clearly aware of this when Black Phillip/Satan show up…and she is all “wtf, guess I’ll be a witch now.” I’ve heard people suggest it’s because she had no other choice and nowhere else to go, but if the movie is going to do that, we need to see her being connived/convinced of this instead of just accepting it because the movie is about to end.. I LIKE the film fine…but I also think it’s flawed and the weakest between Witch/Lighthouse/Northman. I do like, however, the attention to detail, the authentic representation of the period, and the power struggle/family dynamics. I never felt like the film was trying to justify a moral code or their version of reality, but rather just presenting it as **a** representation for the story.

    re: The Lighthouse-@renfield, I thought Pattinson was VERY good-maybe not as good as Dafoe, but I thought they were perfect together for the movie and played off each other very well. I certainly wouldn’t say he was massively outclassed or anything. I thought it was the perfect ‘real or not’ among Eggers’ 3 films. There is nothing in the movie that explicitly demonstrates that everything is ACTUALLY happening is because Pattinson broke sea law by killing a gull. He probably didn’t see anything in the light but the light, and truly went mad due to the isolation of the island and Dafoe effing with him nonstop.

    Contrast that with Northman, some of what’s happening is certainly supernatural/viking lore type stuff (as I mentioned way further up in the comments). The snake turns to rope. Bjork’s shaman just disappears. The sword can’t be unsheathed during the day or somewhere that isn’t the Gates of Hel. Amleth being able to see his family tree. The reality v. expectations aspect was interesting to me-seeing Amleth’s perception of the events versus what really happened, despite SOME of the supernatural stuff being “real” made the ending work-Amleth being taken to Valholl by a Valkyrie is what he believed would be the reward for fulfilling his destiny and dying in glorious battle, and how he perceives it is all that matters in his story.

  45. Fuckin’ Metal, as someone said above, is exactly how I’d describe this movie. It felt a tad too long, but holy shit can Eggers direct – the action, even if it kept the camera a little too close to the actors at times, was phenomenal. And for a movie with so much horrifying stuff, it was often beautiful.

  46. I didn’t mean to imply I think it’s a “happy ending” or like, “female empowerment” for Thomasin to be doomed to wander the woods and become a demonic baby-eating hag. It’s just an outrageous tonal shift for both the character and film, and I find its unexpectedness electrifying.

    I would compare it to 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, which similarly dances around a question of “what is really going on here” until hitting you with the double barrel answer at the end. Or, a more obscure example but one which is required viewing for all fans of extreme insane cinema, SAVE THE GREEN PLANET! This is lawless, chaotic storytelling to me, which I value tremendously.

    I don’t think the ending of the second CLOVERFIELD film in any way justifies the Goodman character’s behavior, nor do I think THE VVITCH is making any tidy moral implications about like, the comparative virtue of being a witch vs being a puritan. Like others have said, Eggers goal is to portray this world and the conflicts that he imagines its denizens experienced with as little judgment as possible.

  47. I’m kinda too scatterbrained to make this a coherent post, so here goes:

    1) So, all things considered, I think I really like historical realism the way Eggers does it. He wants to have his cake (real-ass historical movies about past cultures) and eat it too (all the rest), and the decision to just present all the fantasy elements in a way that people of the period could believe is the perfect way to balance it. He actually makes sure you know this in the first thirty seconds, too; the narrator asks Odin to help him tell this story, so this is a Viking story and it has dead warriors coming to life if you try to rob their grave like Vikings believed. The Iliad and the Odyssey start by praying to the muses, too. Eggers would be perfect to remake TROY.

    2) Kidman and Bang are the movie’s most compelling characters (Taylor-Joy doesn’t have much of a character beyond “smart and determined”). They have clear aims, clear justifications for what they do, and a clear understanding of the society they live in. Maybe what drove these two together in the first place was the shared experience of living in the fringes. Sure they killed Ethan Hawke and that’s bad, but maybe he shouldn’t have been taking slaves and disrespecting his half-brother. They feel much more real than Amleth wandering around all slouched and gruff, looking for a Viking-approved way to die. You might think that he’s still suffering from the loss of his dad, and you’d be right, but Conan and Hamlet do too and they’re much more fun characters than Amleth. At least dance with the rest of them, bro.

    3) There are people, not here obviously, maybe on Twitter and other such spots, who are worried that this movie will attract Nazis and other racists. The response to this is: this movie is awful. I mean, the things it depicts are awful. It’s kindred to APOCALYPTO in that way. If anyone watches all this mass murder and human sacrifice and decides that it is cool, that it’s fucking awesome to live like this, that’s on them. The movie didn’t convince them of anything, they showed up pretty confident in their conclusions already. The shit that people have in their heads is just as important as the shit that’s shown on the screen. Like, there’s one dude out there watching TERMINATOR 2 and he’s jacking it, furiously, to the T-1000. Being made of liquid metal arouses him and he’s jacking it while Robert Patrick goes around, morphing and killing. I guarantee you this. Will you judge the movie on its own merits, or on that dude’s merits? And will you judge for yourself, or for Twitter likes?

  48. Guys, I really hate to do this, but this movie fucking blows. Its basic take on the revenge story (that revenge is just some delusional bullshit that is unhealthy for everyone) could have been interesting, but not with Eggars at the helm. At this point, I feel safe in declaring him a shitty director in every aspect that matters to me. You want to make sure the clasps on some guy’s tunic is historically accurate or that the period-appropriate mumbling is suitably difficult for modern audiences to understand, you call this guy. You want viewer to give fuck one about anything they’re seeing at any point, you call somebody else. That’s not Eggars’ department. He’s the guy who turns the lights down so low you can’t tell who got stabbed until the next scene when you do a head count of who’s not there. He’s the guy who fires the editor so it takes 90 seconds to get through a door. Making you give a fuck who lives or dies is somebody else’s department. Even the one-take action scenes, normally my favorite thing in the world, are a bore in this guy’s hands. Eggars couldn’t deliver a thrill if his life depended on it.

    I will give him a pass on THE LIGHTHOUSE, because that movie’s topic is boredom and gibberish. So its form suits its function. It’s not a good movie but it’s an interesting stunt. But this movie is about rage and passion and love and betrayal, big, brawny full-throated stuff, and he makes it all dull, dreary, and disengaging. Literally colorless. You don’t know anybody in the movie and you care less, despite spending so much time with them, because Eggars style smothers everything. It’s a dry, distancing approach to what should be a visceral blast of experience and emotion. His purple prose could maybe read as enjoyably arch on the page, but onscreen, as delivered in the dispassionate camp style this director must insist on, it just comes off as some community theater shit. And it goes without saying that the movie is way too fucking long. You take this same footage, edit it down to 97 minutes, maybe you got a weird little period thriller you’d watch on streaming and forget the next day. Get in and out and you’ll mostly remember the highlights (the Nightblade narration, that guy getting stabbed through the nosehole, the fact that the valkyrie apparently has braces) not the doldrums. Setting it at this pace and this length only gives you time to really settle into what you hate about it, which is nearly everything.

    Sorry, Vern. I tried.

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