The Northman by Robert Eggers: What to Expect
Robert Eggers is the true definition of the auteur director in an industry that has systematically exterminated them in favor of glorified project managers. His vision is incredibly unique and challenging in this new age of passive entertainment. He and Ari Aster have proven that the horror genre is practically boundless, and its fanbase ravages every new entry into horror’s growing list of subgenre’s. So, it’s no surprise that when word got out that Eggers’ next project is a tenth century Viking revenge saga titled The Northman, people lost their minds.
Scant details began trickling out weeks ahead of production. Every bit of information better than the last, and just as the anticipation began to boil production was halted due to Covid-19. So, no one knows for sure when production will resume, and that means no one knows when it will be released. However, we can collect every bit of information we know so far about the film and speculate a bit – if only to keep our salivary glands working overtime.
According to Indiewire, The Northman centers around a Viking prince whose eyes are set for revenge after his father is murdered. Now, Robert Eggers is a modern day master of the mise en scène, and his attention to detail is nothing short of exquisite. His background is in production design, and considering production of the film was set to be shot in Northern Ireland, Eggers will settle for nothing less than complete authenticity. Think of that first scene in The Witch as William and his family stand defiant before a panel of puritanical judges. The walls and beams of the small building felt freshly cut, and the atmosphere was quaint, yet highly claustrophobic. Or The Lighthouse when the two Thomases drunkenly awaken from a storm that had flooded their quarters. It made you feel as though you were drenched and could smell the sea water stagnate in that old, rotting cottage.
Let’s talk about the writing. Robert Eggers and his brother Max have built a firm reputation of creating well researched dialogue incredibly authentic to their story’s timeframe. However, Robert Eggers co-wrote the screenplay to The Northman with famed Icelandic poet, writer and lyricist Sjón Sigurdsson. Consider the chatter of the similarities between The Northman’s logline and the narrative of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Could this film turn out to be a poetically versed, violent tragedy? Well, we know it will be violent, but your imagination could go wild when you place Sigurdsson’s surrealist Icelandic poetry against Eggers’ meticulous attention to detail. Think of the insanely realistic dialogue the Brothers Eggers created with their previous films, but now add in some type of Icelandic iambic pentameter to the mix.
From the powerfully haunting performance of GOT alumni, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie in The Witch, to the absolutely powerhouse turn for Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse, Eggers is able to get the best of the best from his cast. The actors locked in to bring this Viking tale to life is very intriguing. Back from The Witch, we have Anya Taylor Joy, and from his aforementioned performance in The Lighthouse, we have Willem Dafoe. So far there are no details about which characters either might play but it’s not hard to imagine these talented two draped in animal fur sailing upon on a langskip across the arctic sea.
We know that Alexander Skarsgård will be playing the title role as the Viking prince bent on revenge, and Nicole Kidman his mother, the queen. Both actors, though talented, are known more for their understated performances. What we’ve so far seen from Robert Eggers small, but incredible catalog is an incredibly round performances by all main characters. What this means is that we see performances that build with the narrative, and though nearly every character in both his films begin understated, as the misery builds, so do the performances. However, Robert Pattinson, another talented actor known for his quiet power in earlier films, certainly rose to the occasion so there should be no doubt that both Kidman, and Skarsgård will do the same.
Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke will again return as a seemingly constant in Robert Eggers’ canon, gracing us with another chance to witness the incredibly textured and complex photography we’ve come to expect between the two. Blaschke has mentioned that The Northman is a sort of companion to Eggers’ previous films, but it certainly seems as though the budget will far exceed both, so it calls in to question the size and scope in comparison to both The Witch, and The Lighthouse. The question may seem unimportant, but considering the question of aspect ratio between Eggers and Blaschke is never as simple as 16:9 or 2.4:1. it’s a mystery as to what picture we will get. The Witch was shot 1.66:1 aspect ratio, while The Lighthouse gave us a narrow 4:3.
Both aspect ratios are more associated with another era of film and certainly not the current one. Considering the somewhat closed frame of The Witch, and the very closed frame of The Lighthouse, these aspect ratios make more sense. Eggers wanted to trap you in with his characters in their closed off worlds, but will that be the same for The Northman? If our protagonist is set free in his world by Eggers, does that give him license to show us the vast world of Odin’s making? Considering filming will take place in Belfast, Ireland, home to many of the great locations in Game of Thrones, I’d be interested to see what Eggers and Blaschke can cook up with 2.4:1. Imagine the incredibly balanced compositions they’ll serve up over a strip of anamorphic film.
Animals as Omens
Both of Eggers’ previous films use animals to deepen and enhance the many themes within his narratives. Norse mythology uses an abundance of animals in a number of ways so it’s hard to imagine Eggers not utilizing some beast to deepen layers within his story. In The Witch a rabbit was desperately hunted. The rabbit is known to represent abundance within Pagan folklore, and it was abundance that had been taken away from the family. The seagull was heavily featured in The Lighthouse. The elder Thomas claims the seagulls are inhabited by the souls of dead sailors, and therefore should be left alone. The seagull represents freedom, and after one of them dies, the two Thomases become trapped on the island. Two great omens of Norse mythology are the wolf and the raven, however, the horse, deer and boar are also heavily attributed to the totems of the Norse gods.
So judging from what we know of Robert Eggers and his immaculate style, and the few details we have about The Northman, what can we really expect from the film? It’s safe to assume that what we will get is a soggy, dreary, slog through the rocky coast of ancient Iceland. The air is salty and the fog thick. You’ll be able to smell the musk of human skin under thick pelts of wolf and bear hide, and feel the blood spray you as sharp, steely blades rip through chest and bone. You’ll see a raven or wolf guiding us to a cave beyond a great ravine. The dialogue will be dense and lyrical like some lost Norse poem of past gods. You’ll hear the rocks beneath the feet of a Viking prince, and follow him to exact a violent, rage fueled massacre upon those responsible for killing his father, the king. It will be epic and very, very Eggers