The Taste Of Revenge
Stars: Alexander Skarsgaard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork and Willem Dafoe
Director: Robert Eggers
Scriptwriters: Robert Eggers and Sion
Composer: Robin Carcian and Sebastian Gainsborough
Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke
Regency Enterprises/Focus Features/Universal Pictures
Rating: R for violence and themed material
Running Length: 138 Minutes
For fans of the television series, “Vikings,” don’t expect the same---dare I say elegant---features of that time. Go backward a few hundred years to where a bear skin was adequate clothing, the temperature must have been 40 degrees at all times, and revenge was the first word you uttered each day. Sometime, somewhere, someone always causes a major problem. This is the plot of “The Northman,” that has---and I mean this as a compliment---guttural sounding music composed by Robin Carcian and Sebastian Gainsborough, plus magnificent photography by Jarin Blaschke. The actors did not have to show up at all. As it stands, the lead is Alexander Sarsgaard (“Succession”) as Amleth, Nichole Kidman ("Being The Ricardo's") as his mother, Ethan Hawke ("Moon Knight") as King Aurvandill and from “The Queen’s Gambit,” Anya Taylor-Joy. Be forewarned that after you see “The Northman,” you may not want to eat red meat for a while.
The basic story concerns King Aurvandill teaching his son, Amleth (here a child) how to be a strong, future king. Somewhere along the line is an assassination, Amleth escapes in a small rowboat on the open sea, and then years later, we encounter him as a grown man bent on revenge so deep it is in his backbone by now. Eventually, through purposely becoming a slave, he ends up close to the new king’s home. The present king who is the murderer, is the uncle and his wife is now Kidman, who has a son, Gunnar, by this uncle. Shades of “Hamlet.” Nothing is new under the sun. So, if you know your “Hamlet,” you can figure out the plot to the end. In-between the audience is treated to gray landscapes, many beatings and a rough treatment of slaves, especially women, who are at the lowest rung of the ladder in this society.
It is hard to distinguish who is who in the film, as the women don’t look up when a man is present, men have beards and long hair and usually a few skins on them, and haven’t washed in a several months. Director Robert Eggers goes for the authentic touch and Alexander Skargaard gets many chances to show off his body. On the other hand, Anya Taylor-Joy, is either hidden in rags or shown without rags. Nicole Kidman wears a cloak that hides all and is sometimes, unrecognizable. Now, as far as the villain, it is Claes Bank (“The Affair”) and killing his brother to marry the brother’s wife, smacks of not only “Hamlet” but going back to Biblical New Testament times when one of the Herod kings murdered his brother so he could marry the wife (daughter was Salome.)
The first half of “The Northman” is dreary and somewhat hard to follow because of dark skies and landscape and beards or cloaks to hid features. The last half of the film is inside, so you have a chance to finally meet someone. At this time, the facts of the film start to fall into place as Amleth gets nearer to the end of his mission in life. There are Seer’s to consult with and their word is taken as truth. You won't recognize her, but Bjork is one of the Seers, blink and you may miss her. Along the way, Amleth has visions of The Tree of Kings, that starts from the bottom up with figures of past kings from his family. It is a lovely idea and you begin to see how Amleth fits into this family. He gives a good yell in battle, too.
A touch of Christianity is present, as you see a cross here or there and realize some Christians have been - or are still - there and even a discussion of which God to worship now. Which God will grant the favors one wants. This was part of “The Vikings” scenario, also. What happens when one dies, too, straight to a heaven or straight to Valhalla?
Acting is really not required, only a surly look, a downward look (women) and little speech. It took about 15 minutes to get into this film, and then you could start to figure out what is going on and how this eventually may play out. Even though “The Northman” has a resemblance to “Hamlet,” it has a unique flavor of its own, too. Skarsgaard hides his feelings in hesitancy of speech giving everyone the idea he is stupid. An advantage the wealthy and entitled woefully overlook. “The Northman” falls short of being an epic film, but the mastery in composition of the film is noteworthy
Copyright 2022 Marie Asner