Toxic Masculinity in “The Northman”
Robert Eggers is an interesting filmmaker. There’s something otherworldly about his work. An American filmmaker, screenwriter and production designer, Eggers is best known for the horror film, “The Witch”. His films are dark, both in tone and lighting, and contain elements of folklore. A stickler for historic accuracy, his latest film “The Northmen” reunites him with his “Witch” star, Anya Taylor-Joy and the production filmed in Ireland surrounded by Viking period costumes, sets and traditions.
Aesthetics are very important to Eggers. He spends years on research and on his two first films, “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse”, he controlled all aspects of the production design. Period details are essential to Eggers. He spent four years researching the history of New England witchcraft and folktales for “The Witch”. He believes they inform the performances and are vital to presenting his stories in the richest and most authentic terms. Reaching back in time to folklore traditions is one way he taps into the period and the part of the world he’s filming in. “The Northman” was such a huge project that he had to rely on other collaborators beyond his normal production crew to bring his vision to life.
There are films you can admire even though you don’t necessarily enjoy them. I have an appreciation for Eggers and his films. I don’t watch horror films, and can’t even handle the trailer for “The Witch”, but I love Anya Taylor-Joy. I had a visceral reaction to the insanity on display in “The Lighthouse” and hope to never have to see it again. One of the yuckiest masturbation scenes I’ve witnessed. And yet, it’s hard not to admire actors willing to give their all in over-the-top performances for a director who’s so passionate and committed to his vision and the craft of filmmaking.
One theme that seems to unite the films beyond attention to detail, myth & folklore and richly designed productions, is the toxic masculinity of the male characters. A pious Puritan father who forces his family to live in the wilderness in “The Witch”, a lighthouse keeper who’s grown mad and fights off his replacement in “The Lighthouse” and now, “The Northman”. The entire plot can be summed up by the lead character, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), “I will avenge you father, I will save you mother, I will kill you, Feng”. It’s like an Icelandic Hamlet story.
Skarsgård gives an incredible performance as the Viking who’s consumed with rage and vengeance after seeing his father killed by his uncle. Amelth is so full of toxic masculinity that even after he’s found love–and a new life awaits him, he cannot let go of his vengeance. When it’s revealed that his life’s mission has been a crusade set in motion by circumstances he couldn’t comprehend as a boy, he cannot course correct. The folklore elements and mysticism add to the mythic nature of the story. Amelth may not be the hero he believes himself to be but he can find no rest or redemption.
Anya Taylor-Joy is luminous even in her rags as a kidnapped slave. She’s too pretty to exist in the time period but having her play a seer or mystic herself, Olga of the Birch Forest, lends the character power and significance. Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman shine in their smaller but pivotal roles as Amleth’s father & mother, King Aurvandill War-Raven and Queen Gundrun. There’s even a small role for Björk that adds to the Icelandic charm. The cast gives their all to tell this bloody tale of Viking vengeance.
“The Northman” had an exclusive theatrical distribution in April and is now available to purchase on VOD (Video on Demand). It’s doing surprisingly well. For a film that was crafted to be seen on big screens, there are many intimate moments that still sell the story on a small screen. Whether you have the stomach for period-accurate weapons hacking bodies to pieces and scenes of rape and torture…that’s something you’ll need to decide for yourself.
Drinks With Films rating: one golden goblet of Viking wine (possibly laced with henbane) (out of 5) for the committed performances and extraordinary production design