‘The Northman’ Aimed to Reclaim Viking History From White Supremacists—Forgetting White Supremacists Are Not That Smart
In his latest film, The Northman, director Robert Eggers adapts the Norse tale of Amleth, a Viking prince who seeks to avenge the murder of his father—a saga that inspired the Shakespeare play Hamlet. While not a completely faithful adaptation of the tale, the movie pulls from Viking history, not shying away from the brutality of what that meant.
The Observer reports that at the movie’s London premiere, Eggers expressed that, in this film, he wanted to reclaim Viking history and Norse mythology from white supremacists who have used them as symbols of white pride and culture. He later told them, during an interview, that those associations almost dissuaded him from tackling the project in the first place: “The macho stereotype of that history, along with, you know, the rightwing misappropriation of Viking culture, made me sort of allergic to it, and I just never wanted to go there,” Eggers said.
In many ways, The Northman is attempting to explore the dangers of revenge and highlights female power equally to male power, with Anya Taylor-Joy’s character of Olga. But it is very easy for the spectacle, the framing, to undermine the message, if that is all people choose to see—especially since the film is filled with just white people, and the lead couple is two blonds whose coupling will bring about the birth of a Maiden Queen who might be Olga of Kiev.
The Guardian notes that at the white supremacy site Stormfront, a contributor named Yggdrasil—named after the sacred tree that holds up the worlds in Norse Mythology—made a thread of good white-nationalist films that fall under the following criteria:
“Positive portrayal of whites in defense against the depredations of liberalism, crime, and attack by alien races”; “Positive portrayal of heterosexual relationships and sex, marriage, procreation and child rearing”; “Portrayals of white males as intelligent, sensitive and strong – in positive leadership roles and or romantic leads”; and “Particularly intense portrayals of white female beauty, in non-degrading roles”. Disqualifying themes include homosexuality, racial mixing, negative portrayals of Christianity and portrayals of white people as inferior.(via The Guardian)
Not only does The Northman hit all these marks, but so do films like Lord of the Rings and most Jane Austen film adaptations—not because all of these works have inherent roots in white supremacy, but because the criteria is so basic. White supremacists may not own Norse and Viking mythos/history, but they have done a lot of work of incorporating it into their brand. However, they are helped along by academia and others continuing to spread the illusion that Europe was always a white place where non-white people weren’t around until the slave trade.
“We [worked] with archaeologists and historians, trying to recreate the minutiae of the physical world, while also attempting to capture, without judgment, the inner world of the Viking mind: their beliefs, mythology and ritual life,” Eggers said in astatement explaining how accurate he wanted to make them film. “That would mean the supernatural would be as realistic as the ordinary in this film—for so it was for them.”
Dorothy Kim, an Asian American medieval literature lecturer at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, made the point that, at this point, unless you make choices to actively distance yourself from the alt-right’s depictions of the medieval past, you may end up just upholding them anyway.
“Invoking the medieval past has now become a more generalised sign of the alt-right,” she explained. “The point is not the specifics of the historical detail or what certain medieval things may mean to certain subgroups. Instead, the point is to gather them all for the maximum amount of attention, to plant as many flags to say: ‘I am a white supremacist,’ and to activate other white-supremacist terrorists globally.”
Eggars’ movie is not a white supremacist film, but because it is still an overwhelmingly white and heterosexual depiction of the time period, it still has the potential to whet the appetites of those who want to weaponize that imagery.
(via The Guardian, image: Focus Features)
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