Directed by Robert Eggers, “The Northman” is a massively-scaled Viking epic that brings Eggers’ signature style from cult classics like “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse.” Focus Features is releasing it this weekend, and it’s a perfect example of what can go wrong when an independent filmmaker tries to work within the Hollywood system.
Robert Eggers on the Northman Directing is an Insane Job
Eggers, who is known for his bizarre and unsettling period photographs, worked with Icelandic author and poet Sjón on a plot based on Medieval Icelandic sagas that were crossed with the Scandinavian mythology of Amleth, who is widely considered to be a forerunner to “Hamlet.”
In “The Northman,” set around the turn of the 10th century, young prince Amleth watches as his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) murders his father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), and then abducts Amleth’s mother, Queen Gudrn (Cate Blanchett) (Nicole Kidman).
Now an adult, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard) is still driven by his childhood pledge to revenge his father, rescue his mother, and kill his uncle twenty years after the events. Amleth (Anya Taylor-Joy, also in “The Witch”), who has been working as a slave on Fjölnir’s farm in order to complete his quest, develops an unexpected friendship with Olga, a native of the Birch Forest.
An Almost Lyrical Spirituality Coexists with the Film’s Stark, Horrific Violence.
Long, continuous takes are used for many situations, including a devastating raid on a town. The decisive conflict is waged at the lip of a volcano. Before the film’s release, Eggers claimed, “Entertainment didn’t need to be my major purpose” because of the scope of his previous two films.
Whereas “The Lighthouse” was made with the intention of being obtuse, “The Northman” was made with the intention of appealing to a wide audience. Production designer Craig Lathrop, costume designer Linda Muir, cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, and editor Louise Ford all returned to work with Eggers on “The Northman,” which was shot in the beautiful surroundings of Northern Ireland.
“What I’m attempting to do is build a fully transportive period movie that investigates the interior world of the period and makes the interior world and the outer world a reality,” explained Eggers. “And also, something that aspires to use a cinematic language and method that is both comprehensive and multifaceted.
I realise the arrogance in claiming this is my goal, but what I’m chasing is the concept that all the elements of a production—costumes, sets, acting, and cinematography—are interconnected. All of these factors ought to be taken into account.
In a recent profile for The New Yorker, filmmaker Robert Eggers’ struggles to satisfy both his film’s investors and the studio while staying true to his own vision were examined at length. Eggers appears to be forced on the defensive by the need to address it now, right before the release of his ambitious, high-concept film.
But he is cautious to highlight the bright side of the underlying struggle. Toss my movie to the side. People aren’t making blockbuster movies unless they’re about superheroes or part of a franchise, which is common knowledge.
“It in and of itself is extraordinary,” Eggers remarked. And my coworkers are cool with it, so I get to use all the department heads. Amazingly, we don’t have the track record to back up our claim that we can make this movie; on the contrary, the pre-production and production phases seemed like doing a bigger version of anything I’ve done before.
I expected changes to occur during post-production, and that’s when they did. And I’ve claimed that that was the most excruciating thing I’ve ever experienced, and you know what, it is a total fact.
On the Other Hand, in my Proposal I Said that I Could Create the Most Exciting Robert Eggers film ever.
Sjón took the lead, saying, “It’s our responsibility to interpret the studio notes in a way that we’re happy of,” when I was in the studio without the burden of working with others. If we aren’t able to accomplish this, then we aren’t putting in enough effort.
The goal was reached. That was difficult, but we needed that kind of pressure to make this movie the way it is (which is the director’s cut). To get to “The Northman,” Eggers took a trip to Iceland with his wife after “The Witch” opened at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival (where Eggers received the directing prize).
Eggers first met Björk, who would eventually play a mystic seeress in “The Northman,” through their common acquaintance Robin Carolan.
Björk’s Longtime Collaborator And Friend Sjón was the One Who initially Connected Björk with Eggers.
Eggers and Sjón hit it off and kept in touch with each other. Skarsgrd, who was also a producer on “The Northman,” had been attempting to make a Viking story for a long time when Eggers and Lars Knudsen, who had produced “The Witch,” finally got together to discuss it.
“I’d always wanted to make a Viking movie and was trying to think of a method to do it that would be both wacky and grandiose. At the same time, I think it’s important to maintain true to the heart of the poetry in the old Icelandic sagas,” Skarsgrd added. I’m not familiar with that film.
There have been Viking projects before, and some of them are great; however, I had never seen one on a large canvas, a story told that didn’t feel like a modern-day interpretation of it but rather like a transportation back in time and to where you actually experienced the world through a Viking’s eyes.
Eggers contacted Sjón, and the two of them began working on the screenplay, gathering a crew of historians, archaeologists, and Viking experts to assist them. Because this is material that has been used so extensively in Iceland throughout the years, as an Icelander I had to approach the Icelandic sagas with some trepidation.
“As soon as the sagas are completed in the 13th century, people begin reworking them, transforming them into epic poems, into plays, and so on,” said Sjón.
And I questioned whether or not I offered something novel to the discussion. At any rate, since it was Robert, I figured, “Oh, he will definitely bring some fresh eyes on this,” and then I could contribute my poetry and insider knowledge.