Years ago, as a camp counselor for the young teens of my church, we had a night of split activities for the boys and girls. As the girls went off to have their nails done, the gentleman stayed in the cafeteria/gym to have various types of physical challenges (most notably the push up contest, which one of my campers easily dominated).
Toward the end of this, the girls came in, complaining right away about a smell that none of the males could register. One of the camp’s leaders quickly quipped,
“Ladies, that is testosterone.”
Those females in the audience of Robert Egger’s third feature film, The Northman, may have been complaining about that same smell. I have not sensed this much testosterone seeping off the big screen since 2006’s 300.
Set in the early 10th century, the film is rather straightforward, as Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is hellbent on vengeance over the death of his father, the King Aurvandill War- Raven (Ethan Hawke) by his Uncle Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang). He repeats to himself, “I will avenge you Father! I will save you Mother! I will kill you Fjölnir!” It is no surprise to learn that the legend of Amleth was in fact the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet (which is an anagram of Amleth). He eventually returns with the help of Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), an amateur sorceress.
This is the type of movie where it is just fun to say the name of all the characters. I won’t go through all of them, but some include Thorir the Proud (Gustav Lindh), Finnr the Nose-Stub (Eldar Skar), Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe), Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman, more riveting here than she was in Being the Ricardos). All these are names an actor or actress would love to see on their resumes.
I won’t sugar coat this for parents: bringing a child younger than high school age is a bad parenting move. Aside from the almost palpable violence (including a sporting event called Knattleikr), there is a decent amount of sexual content (though filmed from far away), as well as brief bits of nudity. Taking a child to this movie will result in them needing therapy down the road for some time.
Since day one, I have been a fan of filmmaker Robert Eggers. He came onto the scene with 2016’s The Witch (which was also the breakout for Anya Taylor-Joy, another person I have been a fan of for some time) and 2019’s The Lighthouse (also starring Willem Dafoe). Eggers (who also helped pen the script) is indeed a master of mixing both the surreal and the palpable. The dreamlike visionary (with much credit being due to cinematographer Jarin Blaschke) with visceral grit. My inner naivety had times of believing I was watching some sort of documentary.
As a cinematic artist, he does not pull his punches.
In this case, by punches, I mean gargantuan sword slashings, epic spear throwing, and barbaric howling.