Coming to theatres in April 2022, Robert Eggers’ The Northman promises to be an epic Viking saga of revenge, rooted in history, mythology, and notable literary works. Co-written by Eggers and Icelandic poet Sjón, The Northman is set at the turn of the tenth century in Iceland and stars Alexander Skarsgård as Viking prince Amleth, whose tale plays out like a bildungsroman of rage, longing, and revenge. The first trailer offers a glimpse into how the tale might play out, and it is worth noting that the setting, costume, and aesthetic of the period seem to be extremely faithful to Viking history, so far.
Eggers’ cinematic endeavors, The Witch and The Lighthouse, have propelled him to earn the reputation of being a visionary director in terms of evoking a sense of the macabre amidst the mundane. While The Northman, as per Eggers himself, is his most “mainstream” offering so far, it is a passion project that aims to bring the authentic Viking way to life, whilst narrating a tale drenched in pathos through and through. In essence, The Northman opens with a young Amleth witnessing the killing of the king, his father (Ethan Hawke), at the hands of his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Wracked with the fire to enact revenge, Amleth grows up nurturing that fury, enlisting the aid of Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the Seeress (Björk) in his plan for revenge.
Amleth’s oft-repeated mantra of avenging his father, saving his mother, and killing Fjölnir sum up his core motivation throughout the arc of the narrative, likening his fate to that of Hamlet and Simba in The Lion King. Amleth, of-course, is a figure that exists in medieval Scandinavian legend, a direct inspiration of Prince Hamlet, and the tale is said to have descended from an old Icelandic poem, although its presence is not backed by historical records.
Whether Eggers will factor in the basic tenets of Hamletian dilemma, brought to life on the big screen countless times in different iterations, remains to be seen. However, due to the distinctive context of adapting an authentically Viking tale, the recontextualization is bound to be layered and interesting, as both Sjón and Eggers have incorporated ancient Norse legends and practices, melding mystery with bloodshed, magic with war.
The highly-anticipated film is also expected to delve into the caverns of the human mind, molded by revenge, which blurs the line between justice and retribution. The muted color palettes used in The Northman exemplify bringing the setting and characters to life, adding an element of believability, evoking the aesthetic of Eggers’ The Witch. For instance, using red/orange hues of wildfire to transmute the fabric of anger and revenge melded into the film is pretty effective.
Characters such as Heimir The Fool (Willem Dafoe) and Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) are also expected to play a seminal role in furthering Amleth’s trajectory, and it will be interesting to witness how fantastical things might get. As Amleth’s Viking sensibilities are heavy on the idea of justice, will there be a lack of indecision, unlike his Shakespearian counterpart? As Hamlet is pretty gothic in terms of its treatment of specters, will The Northman also follow that route to greater lengths? These questions remain to be answered, hopefully in a manner that is more cerebral and surreal than ever before.