Is ‘The Northman’ Based On A True Story? What Do The Viking Practices Shown In The Film Signify?


“The Northman” is loosely based on the Norse mythology about a young Viking prince named Amleth, in “Vita Amlethi.” The story is about how Amleth manages to avenge the death of his father, King Aurvandil, who was killed by his brother, Fjölnir. Inspired by Nordic literature and lifestyle, the film comes up with an original story that would be fitting for the Viking age. What makes “The Northman” overtly believable is the research that went into getting the visual details right, be it the way people lived in Iceland during the time or the fact that many Vikings escaped the regulations and traveled from Scandinavian countries to Iceland. The Viking Icelandic settlements were studied for their rightful depiction in the film.

Amleth had witnessed the beheading of his father, King Aurvandill, by his brother, Fjolnir. He had only one purpose in life from then on: he wanted to kill Fjolnir. It was the desire to seek revenge that kept him alive. After running away from the Kingdom of Hrafnsey, Amleth had grown to be a Viking berserker. The berserkers were warriors who ransacked settlements, and they drew their maddening power from the bears and wolves. The night before the attack, they would indulge in a trance ritual wearing skins of the animals. They would mimic the movements and sounds of the bears and wolves, and as the day would break, they would enter the villages camouflaging themselves with the animal skins and ultimately revealing their intentions. One particular scene that perfectly described the barbarians during the act was when Amleth tore the flesh off an armed man to kill him. During the raid, it was about transforming themselves into animals and murdering humans at will. According to Norse mythology, it is said that the berserkers shapeshifted into animals and won battles for themselves. 

The seers were an integral part of the Viking era. They enjoyed a high status during that time for their ability to foretell the future. Their eyes were sewn shut; even though they could not see the physical reality, they had the power to look at both the past and the future. At night, when Amleth met with a seeress at the temple of Odin in the village they raided, she recognized him. She knew it was Prince Amleth, even though the world thought he was dead. She reminded him of the revenge he had to take and how he could get closer to his motive. She advised him to cross the ocean and reach the edge of the world to land on an island where he would meet a vixen. He had to follow its tail, and he would reach the place where he could find a sword that was designed to destroy his enemy. This revelation of the plot much before Amleth started his journey reflects the power that the seeress held. The Seeresses were known for practicing an ecstasy technique called the Seid to travel through time to reveal secrets.

After his confrontation with his mother, Gudrun, she revealed how cowardly King Aurvandill was as a husband. Amleth was shocked to learn the truth about her mother, who confessed to loving Fjolnir and wanting the death of Amleth. In that moment of fury, Amleth murdered Fjolnir’s elder son, Thorir. The funeral ceremony that followed Thorir’s death demonstrates the burial customs of the Viking age. Thorir was given a ship burial where his body was laid on a boat, and he was offered all that he required to make the journey to his after-life smooth, which also included sacrificing enslaved people. We witness a slave girl joining Thorir in the boat, indicating how she was sacrificing her life for her master. She joined him to serve him in his after-life as well.

In the concluding scene, Amleth, before dying, envisioned his wife and his two children. They were happy and safe. It was his sacrifice that protected them from the evil that could destroy their lives. According to his vision and the words of the seeress, his daughter would grow up to be a maiden king. He fought his enemies in the present time to protect his daughter, who had a bright future ahead. In the end, Olga tells him to cross the passage. The journey every warrior hopes to make after losing their lives on the battlefield. It was considered the highest honor to die on the battleground, as that meant that they would have a place in Valhalla. According to Norse mythology, Valhalla is a royal hall that is located in Asgard, which is ruled by Odin. Valhalla translates to the “hall of the slain.” Amleth was at peace when he was carried on a winged horse by the Valkyries. The Valkyries were female figures who guided the Nordic warriors to the majestic hall of the slain.

See More: ‘The Northman’ Ending, Explained: Did Almeth Avenge His Father’s Death? Is Almeth Dead Or Alive?

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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