Friday, May 20, 2022

The Northman (2022)

 I have no idea how anyone could see The Northman as a white supremacist film, but it seems some people do. If anything, it makes white people, especially Vikings, look really bad. Yet it is probably one of the most accurate depictions of pagan Norsemen ever filmed. The violence and superstition of life at that time and place are set in the magnificence of Iceland. It is well-acted but painful to watch, at least for me. From Vox:

In the 12th century or thereabouts, a fellow we know today as Saxo Grammaticus sat down to write a history of Denmark, a chronicle of its mythology, history, and conquests. I doubt he knew that his work would inspire generations of adaptations. But, as fate would have it, two of his 16 books told a rollicking tale of Amleth, grandson of a king. Amleth’s father was murdered by his brother, Amleth’s uncle, who then married Amleth’s mother. Amleth feigned madness to escape his uncle’s sword, but eventually, he took his revenge.

Historians believe Saxo Grammaticus’s account of Amleth was itself an adaptation, based on older Icelandic poems. But it would be far from the final retelling of the tale. Most famously, a few centuries later, an English playwright used Amleth’s tale as the inspiration for the story of a Danish prince who avenged his own father’s death at the hand of his uncle-cum-stepfather. He titled it The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

And now — in a time when medieval legends seem to be increasingly sparking filmmakers’ imaginations — The Northman, a bone-crunching Viking epic from detail-obsessed director Robert Eggers, is based on Amleth’s legend as well. (To put it another way: if you feel while watching The Northman like you’re watching a Shakespeare adaptation, you are wrong, but only kind of.)  (Read more.)


From Den of Geek:

When we spoke to Eggers about the film, he noted the story of Amleth was a larger inspiration for him to chase his own Berserker ghosts. The filmmaker wanted to use that basic framework of familiarity to keep the audience keyed in to what is happening, even when weird things like Bjork as a supernatural Seer appears, compelling Amleth to stop his raiding ways and seek a righteous revenge instead.

Even so, there are more than a few elements of The Northman lifted directly from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and not Amleth), only now with a modern subtext.

For instance, in Hamlet, the Danish prince discovers a gravedigger excavating a burial site, only to find the skull of his father’s court jester. The Danish prince becomes melancholic recalling poor Yorick and the merry memories of kissing his lips and laughing at his japes. Well, that court jester is a major character in The Northman, played here by Willem Dafoe. As Heimir the Fool, Dafoe portrays perhaps the one person Hawke’s King Aurvandil shows genuine affection toward. He is allowed to tease what he sees to be the wandering eye of Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), and he is shown indoctrinating young Amleth into the Viking customs and superstitions of his father.

When Amleth infiltrates Iceland some decades later, feigning to be a Slavic slave, a He-Witch (Ingvar Sigurdsson) manifests to reveal the decapitated remains of Dafoe’s fool. Apparently after Claes Bang’s Uncle Fjölnir assumed the throne he stole, one of his first acts was to torture and behead Heimir. “Alas,” says the He-Witch to Amleth. Yet after the new king’s torturers removed the fool’s tongue and eyes, and later his head, a pagan witch retrieved the remains, restoring the skull to ghastly shape. And now it’s been brought to Iceland in order for Amleth to commune with the dead… much as Hamlet wished to do with poor, poor Yorick. (Read more.)


From The Wrap:

 Kidman rarely gets the credit she deserves for going out on a limb and seeking opportunities to work with envelope-pushing directors. Like Catherine Deneuve, Kidman embraces eccentric characterizations guided by filmmakers working outside the mainstream, and she often reaps the benefits with indelible supporting roles like this one that enhance her reputation as an unpredictable and engrossing performer, a movie star who’s always a character actress at heart.

“The Northman” is the best kind of multi-quadrant movie. Without abandoning his arthouse credentials, Eggers has made a rousingly rough, extreme action saga that has the potential of attracting the kind of viewers who might have found his previous work impenetrable. It’s a vision of futility and fury, of a clash between nature and humanity where violence is both the means and the consequence, and an ancient revenge fantasy that speaks with terrible truth to this moment and to the historical lessons we never seem to learn. (Read more.)


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