Robert Eggers’ The Northman Is a Visually Resplendent Viking Saga

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Dads! Planning a motorcycle trip anytime soon with your sons? Mom staying behind because she has “stuff to do”? Vroom—don’t walk—to the nearest cinema showing Robert Eggers’ The Northman, a visually resplendent Viking saga enfolding revenge, ideals of familial duty, and awesome silver jewelry.

Eggers co-wrote the film with the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, with an eye toward capturing old Norse culture as a rich repository of art, poetry, and spiritual beliefs. Other contributions to history include tests of manhood involving farting and belching. The Vikings were complicated people.

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The story opens in the early 10th century in the British Isles, where fresh-faced 10-year-old Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) is destined to succeed his father King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke). But Aurvandil’s troublemaking brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang) wreaks murderous havoc on that plan, carrying Amleth’s mother Gudrun off like a prize. (She’s played by Nicole Kidman, in a marvelous crimped mane à la Studio 54.) Young Amleth escapes the violence, vowing revenge, and after growing into the beefy form of Alexander Skarsgard, sets out to get it.

He also makes sweet love to saucy enslaved girl Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), and has a hallucinatory meeting with a blind seer (Björk) who urges him not to stray from his mission. Eggers, too, takes his mission seriously, at times fulfilling it with unintentionally comical solemnity. “Your sword is long!” exclaims one of the Viking womenfolk as she gazes upon Amleth’s ancestral iron weapon. Still, there’s always something to look at in this cracked magisterial landscape of moss and mud and angry volcanoes. The Northman, whether you approach it as legitimate folklore or as a testosterone-fueled Saturday-afternoon lark, speaks to the 10-year-old boy in all of us, with a loud and mighty Viking burp.

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