The Northman

The Northman

Robert Eggers’ new film marries a folktale to his pronounced aesthetic in a manner that never, not for a single minute, lets go of being expressive. For a tale that dates as old as being the root for Shakespeare’s own Hamlet, the filmmaker leaves no stone unturned in realising its historical significance and at the same time presenting an all-too-familiar narrative in an entropy-filled, memorably staged manner.

Eggers’ relentless pursuit to give a twist to the staging is visible. With unpredictable camera moves and unnerving cut points, he tries to pull the rug beneath every beat. The film is divided into chapters/episodes commanded by the locations, and this works in favour for the narrative, which by itself is something that can come across as episodic sans this chapter-wise treatment.

The only moment where I couldn’t quite feel the intended impact is when Amleth realises that his past has been a lie, and that he’s believed a facade all this while. This realisation doesn’t get the time and treatment it deserves, and it feels like we move on a little too quickly. Alexander Skarsgard sells it with all that he can, but the beat still falters. He’s otherwise brilliant as a man driven by allegiance to prophecy. Anya Taylor Joy is another actress who commands much attention when in frame. She has a gaze that pierces right through the protagonist, which indirectly travels to us. I’m a fan.

The Land of the Rus would be my pick for the best-directed segment of the film. Here’s where the primal instincts driving the story come across very engrossingly. It’s also a terrific introduction to a character’s resolve. The mythology is accessible, and the action is as lucid and gritty as it needs to be. The slightly lengthy takes here make for some arresting visuals, and this behaviour is then continued consistently through the following illustrious action blocks in the narrative.

There still is a slight lack of a beating heart amidst the exemplary display of craft. It’s intended to be this unapologetically masculine narrative, and it succeeds at the same, but it did leave me asking for more proximity with the character. I’m still pondering over whether this is a me-problem or something lacking in the writing. The experience ultimately feels like I’m admiring the film from a distance. But again, there’s so much to admire. I sincerely wish Eggers gets to deal with more of such scale. Tentpole filmmaking needs his kind of overt expressionism.


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