So, the Northman, in my opinion, is pretty good. Certainly it is watchable without being particularly insulting, which is very rare these days for any Western film. Most of you know I am extremely critical and cynical about modern cinema, and dubious of our ability at this stage to make worthwhile art of any kind (in the mainstream). But it’s true, the odd film does seem to slip through the cracks of doom.
I was not AT ALL a fan of ‘The Lighthouse’, Eggers famous previous work, and some of the weaker aspects of that echoed in The Northman. However he seems to have pulled it off this time – I think in particular due to following a kind of classic-story model. As with the more egregious examples of David Lynch (Inland Empire, Twin Peaks revival) if the ‘grandiose maestro’ is allowed to vanish up his own ass with his ‘ego-artiness’, the viewer finds himself subjected to Francis Bacon schlock (and boredom). But force the arthousier to follow a classic story (in Lynch’s case Dune, original Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) and see his actual abilities shine. Such is the case, evidently, with this Eggers character.
However I did not, as I think some have, pass through this film unscathed by any insulting progressive assertions. But nothing is perfect, and overall it’s pretty good. Nor did I, as some have, find it ‘outrageously right wing’ or even ‘hypermasculanised’, in particular. I suppose by a progressive genderling’s standards you could assert this, but as someone who has ignored completely their youthy, emasculated ‘cultural output’ for many years, this seems to have fairly normal and natural values to me, with a few small exceptions.
Now that my overall recommendation is out of the way, on to my few complaints.
Firstly, there was distinctly a scene involving a pagan dance or mating ritual which depicted two young women dancing together extremely suggestively (as in suggesting they were coupling). This is very obviously sneaking in post-American techworld fake-values that would not have been around then. That was the worst example I noticed – yet little unnecessary things like that can destroy the whole illusion.
Secondly, the main female character, the slav love interest, has a faint whiff of modern ’empowered woman’. Not a huge or truly offensive trace, but I can sense the filmmaker’s desire to include that, submissively. Thankfully it didn’t reach the ‘Vikings’ HBO tier of revisionist wymmyn-warriors. Overall there is a slightly defiant/strong female attitude there that in the real captive-slave situation would likely be far more fearful and submissive. I will grant that slav chicks are generally hard, ball-breaking bitches, and she is so much the hard bitch her display of grief at the hero swimming back for vengeance felt slightly contrived.
Thirdly: black metal vikings. There is a kind of post-feminist attitude to masculinity that actually uses obvious (essentially feminist) tropes about mannish behaviour. The grunting, belching, roaring, exaggerated swaggering, especially in the early battle scenes, reminded me of this. The reality of a functioning patriarchal culture can be seen in older films before we feminised ourselves, such as westerns. In that example you see the lost aspect to masculinity, the desire to not be showy, or exhibit ego. The quiet and restained, silent, commanding and purpose-driven killer, does not so often roar and posture, as though they are in an Immortal video (actually even they are more subdued than movie-vikings). I imagine they would be surprisingly closer to a military northman of today, albeit with pagan overtones and berserk moments. I expect also their music would not be all dark drums and grunting, and more like ballady, melodic bard music similar to folk tunes that survive to this day.
My fourth and most minor complaint was the odd character of his mother, her cartoon-like villainy, the weird plastic-surgeried head on Kidman, and the scene where they kiss with a moment’s passion (reminding me of the nihilistically-animalish moments in The Lighthouse). It seemed highly unreal and exaggerated.
Eggers makes open homage the classic Milius Conan film several times, including the film’s best scene, where the hero has to battle a Crom-like undead king. I was disappointed by the allusion to this fight (after it was over) being imagined or unreal, as were the other mythical-fantasy elements throughout. But that is forgivable, and his special effects scenes are well executed.
The ending was slightly anti-climactic, for a film which for most of it’s duration had that essential quality of being unpredictable. But it probably could not end any other way. I am surprised to see Eggers was not forced by Hollywood to insert African vikings or wymmyn berserkers, as I had read that new institutions were in place (post BLM) to ensure nothing gets made without a progressive face. But I suppose this proves it is still possible (however he pulled it off).
Pretty good overall, with a good focus on fate and bloodlines.