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The Independent Critic

Alexander Skarsgård, Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Gustav Lindh, Björk
Robert Eggers
Sjon, Robert Eggers
Rated R
137 Mins.
Focus Features

 "The Northman" is Thematically Simple and Immensely Satisfying 
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It would be easy for me to take a lighter approach to the latest film from Robert Eggers, The Northman, by referring to it, in jest, as The Unbearable Weight of Toxic Masculinity, a title that would just as easily apply to any of Eggers' first three films. Toxic masculinity is, indeed, in the DNA of The Northman, a thematically simple film that still dazzles with its awesomeness largely because Eggers was given enough financing to weave the intricacies of culture into the film's life blood in ways he simply couldn't do before. 

Yet, to refer to The Northman as anything other than what it is would be to disrespect the clarity of Eggers' vision for the film. Eggers takes a historically familiar story, that of Amleth, and brings it to life with a clarity, rage, and relentlessness that The Northman deserves no other fate than that which it has cast for itself - The Northman is a Robert Eggers film. 

Easily traced to its Old Norse origins in the 10th century with literary roots in the soil of Shakespeare's Hamlet, this Eggers creation doesn't so much discover any new territory as it brings to life the familiar territory in new and exciting ways visually and culturally. The Northman begins in 895, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) has returned from war to his wife Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) and young son Amleth (as a child played by Oscar Novak). King Aurvandil has returned, yet he is severely injured and convinced of his impending demise. Despite the Queen's misgivings, he decides to relinquish his throne to his young son just as had occurred for his very own father. 

This is the first, but not the last, sign of the foreshadowing to come. 

We all know what happens, of course. Aurvandil is subsequently killed by his own brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who kidnaps Gudrún and pillages the village in pursuit of eliminating Amleth. 

It is here where Eggers and co-writer Sjón lay out The Northman in its simplest of terms - this is a tale of scorched earth revenge.