Alexander Skarsgård yelling in the Northman

‘The Northman’ Is a Gritty, Bloody Tale of Revenge in the Best Way

5/5 swords.

The Northman is the kind of revenge-driven tale that, if made by anyone other than visionary director Robert Eggers, would have felt like an uber-masculine journey that ended in audiences leaving wondering why they spent over two hours watching men fighting rather than going to therapy. Instead, The Northman is the kind of movie that breaks down that revenge-driven narrative and weaves it into a story of a lost boy trying to find answers only to be confronted with a different reality than he wanted to believe.

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Alexander Skarsgård plays Amleth, the son of King Aurvandil War-Raven (played by Ethan Hawke) and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), who witnessed his uncle, Fjölnir the Brotherless (Claes Bang), kill his father. Amleth then makes it his goal in life (once he escapes from Fjölnir’s death sentence) to avenge his father’s death and save his mother.

What wasn’t as cut and dry about Eggers’ The Northman from the trailers was the heart and love story at the center that drives Amleth’s actions as he seeks answers to his past and a path to move forward with what the legends have said about his own story.

**Spoilers for The Northman lie ahead.**

Heading into this movie, I hadn’t looked up Amleth’s story, only to leave the theater thinking to myself how much the story reminded me of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That makes sense given that Shakespeare apparently used the Medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth as a direct inspiration for his Hamlet.

The story is quite simple: A boy is taken away from his rightful place as prince (an eventual king) and desires to get revenge against the uncle who took that throne from him. With Amleth’s story, it is more of a betrayal of both his uncle and his mother (which does happen in Hamlet when Queen Gertrude marries Claudius after the murder of Hamlet’s father).

Sure, this film is bloody but I knew that going in and I was excited for the gore that awaited me. (The man beside me did exclaim “oh COME ON” at one point and that I did love.) But Amleth’s true story is that of love. He finds Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy) and while their initial attraction to each other is driven by their revenge (in albeit different ways), the two are brought together and fall in love through their desire to seek revenge against Fjölnir.

While the story of his mother’s betrayal shouldn’t have been a shock, it still hurt to see Amleth watch the woman he sought after to save was the one who wished him dead. And though he dedicates his life to fighting against Fjölnir and what he did to his father, in the end, it is about Amleth and his struggle to accept his own history and life.

The legend is one that we’ve obviously seen told time and time again through adaptations, whether we knew it or not, but Eggers brings the story to life in a gruesome yet breathtaking way and Skarsgård weaves Amleth’s pain into the character at every turn.

It is bloody and there is a part of this movie where Alexander Skarsgård kills a man by bashing his head in with his own head but it was the kind of movie that I expected that level of gruesome fighting in and it worked for the story as a whole. This is a movie that, if you feel comfortable going to a theater, you won’t want to miss in a cinematic sense because it’s beautiful and ties in wonderfully to Eggers’ unique style.

(image: Focus Features)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.