"...this film makes its characters as exotic, unknowable and brutal as possible..."

A Great Viking Film Anyway You Slice It

(050522) The Northman is an excellent epic/adventure film that sometimes plays like a brainier and more morally ambiguous pagan version of Braveheart or Gladiator. Viewers might also notice many plot similarities to the play, Hamlet as well as some significant differences But this film is not a straight adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, it is based on the tale of Amleth, which Shakespeare based his play on. The tale was told orally for many years then written down by the author Saxo Grammaticus in the book, The History of the Danes.

Despite the depiction of Game of Thrones style magic and mysticism, some historians consider this one of the most accurate depiction of Viking culture ever portrayed in film. This is because of both film’s gritty realism as well as its comparatively faithful depiction of Nordic traditions and legends.

This film is set in Iceland rather than Denmark with parts shot in Ireland, and it prominently features two members of one of Iceland’s most successful internationally known crossover musical groups: the Avant pop group-the Sugarcubes an  Bjork who plays a seer in a costume even more outrageous than what she usually wears in concert. While the poet and former musician, and her fellow ex Sugar cube member, Sjon wrote the screenplay. The director, Robert Eggars met Sjon through Bjork. Sjon has done extensive research on the Viking culture and he is a perfect choice as co-writer.

The other talent involved in the film is equally impressive. It was made by the comparatively new director Robert Eggars who has previously made the artier Indy films The Witch and the Lighthouse. This is his first big budget mainstream feature. He is also set to do a new version of Nosferatu with Willem Dafoe in the lead which may be typecasting since Dafoe had previously played a vamp Nosferatu in the film within a film: Shadow of the Vampire.  Eggars also co-wrote the always intriguing script of The Northman with the previously mentioned poet named Sjon.

The film’s marvelous cast includes such distinguished actors as Alexander Skarsgarrd (True Blood), Anya Taylor-Joy (Queen’s Gambit) as well as Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, and Ethan Hawke. Taylor-Joy had previously worked with Eggars in The Witch and Willem Dafoe was in his second film, The Lighthouse. It seems like Eggars is slowly building a repertory company like Robert Altman and Wes Anderson.

At the film’s start , we are introduced to Amleth’s dad, with the catchy name, King Aurvandil War Raven (Ethan Hawkel, who is also currently the bad guy in Moon Knight.) He is not exactly father of the year. He neglects his wife (Nicole Kidman) and when she wants to make love after a long separation, and he tells her his greatest desire is to die in battle so that he can happily fight forever in Valhalla. In one of the most impressive and bizarre scenes after lapping up a hallucinogenic substance he fights his son in a ritualistic dream battle sequence which seems like an initiation to create a passing on of the regal power. Then he sees his relatives hanging from trees. The viewer is left to wonder if this is a warning of a likely future or an immutable destiny.

Fjolnir (this story’s equivalent to Claudius) savagely slays the king for his thrown (in the play Hamlet it implies Claudius kills him with gossip). The king’s son, Amleth, witnesses the whole thing and vows to get revenge for both his father’s death and his mom’s ravishing by the hordes after Fjolnir’s death (they pick her up after the fight like she is a sack of potatoes).

The female characters are often eerily enigmatic and fascinating. Nicole Kidman plays Gudrin a is shockingly sinister spin on Gertrude from Hamlet who became embittered because she was basically the spoils of war to two kings and was treated like a trophy. The before mentioned Bjork plays an outer worldly blind seer who puts Amleth on his path, but she also warns about the terrible personal costs he might pay for his revenge mission. Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the young woman that Amleth bonds with and eventually falls for . The pretty and free-spirited woman helps him plot the eventual destruction of their sadistic captors. But at one point the gods (sending the message through the seer) have warned Amleth will have to choose between his love and need for revenge.

At one point, Amleth is captured by Fjolnir’s tribe which are oppressive slave traders who love to treat their human property. The film differs from the Hamlet play again because despite killing the king someone else was able to become ruler before he was able to take command.

In one scene the film depicts what may have been the real-life origin of the werewolf legends. Amleth joins a group of animalistic nomads and they dress up in wolf pelts and howl at moon then then they bite other people in a frenzy and even drink blood. This scene has its precedents in Nordic history and legend. In The Saga of the Volsungs a father and son find out wolf pelts have the power to transform people into wolves for ten days. The father-son put on the pelts, became wolves, and went on a murderous spree in the forest.

I am sure the violence will be too much for some viewers, sometimes this film veers very close to horror. However the action scenes are well shot and the violence is depicted in a much more convincing manner than most American action films. I still maintain that aside from some of the work of Tarantino and Rodriquez all of the best action films are made in Asia. I would argue that its willingness to risk going too far sometimes is part of what makes the film so special.

The best thing about The Northman is that rather than try to psychologically explain the characters or depict modern or PC versions of them this film makes its characters as exotic, unknowable and brutal as possible, and the film really makes you feel like you have totally entered an alien landscape. I have not felt this way during a film since David Lynch's Dune, which is a quite an accomplishment.

Directed by:    Robert Eggars
Written by:    Screenplay by: Robert Eggars and Sjon. Based on
 material from Saxo Grammaticus book: The legend
 of Amleth
Starring:    Alexander Skarsgard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan
Released:    4/22/22 (USA)
Length:    137 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexual
 content and nudity
Available On:    At press time the film is still playing at some
 Chicago area theatres and it will also eventually
 stream on Peacock.

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

NORTHMAN © 2022 New Regency
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.

the Batman"


"Spider-Man No Way Home"