By Eric Vallen
The story of Hamlet. I mean Amleth. Sorry for the typo. A brutal, realistic 10th century tragedy that coincidentally hits every main plot point that Shakespeare’s story of Hamlet does, is The Northman.
Upon first viewing, The Northman comes across as arguably the most realistic viking movie that has ever aired, aided by talented director Robert Eggers and lead actor Alexander Skarsgard. With a combination of disorientating visuals and shockingly guttural performances, Paganism and animalistic religion seems real and believable. What would normally come off as oddly funny or awkward in other movies becomes disturbingly real, especially through Skarsgard’s performance. As viewers in 2022, we have quite literally no concept of an animalistic religion. To see characters wholeheartedly acting like savage animals and unabashedly believing in something completely barbaric is something never truly portrayed on the screen. Movies and shows like Iron Lord and Vikings have attempted to portray true Norse culture, but their performances pale in comparison to The Northman. Every scene is thoroughly drenched in accurate Norse mythology and cultural processes, which, combined with convincing performances, leaves a viewer with a near pitch perfect perception of how Norse men and women truly lived.
Eggers, banking on this factor, makes Norse culture the main facets of his protagonist’s, Amleth’s, motivations. As aforementioned, this movie essentially comes off as a Hamlet reboot, but Norse. At base value, of course a boy would want to avenge his murdered father, but with the addition of him not having died in battle, it offers Amleth even more motivation. Instead of revenge solely driving Amleth, he also has strong family values that spur him to act. Instead of being completely alone, as Hamlet was, Amleth has companions, as women play a much stronger role within Norse culture, and the list goes on and on. The Northman is Hamlet, but with more cultural depth, yet also more tragedy.
By the savage nature of Amleth’s surroundings, throughout the movie he comes to commit heinous acts against those he loves, and those around him in general. As he comes closer to achieving revenge he also comes closer to his family, and creates meaningful connections with those around him. Similar to Hamlet, his drive for revenge tears him apart, causing him to lose his mind as he comes closer and closer to his achievement. By the end of the movie, Amleth’s character becomes morally gray, as his acts are arguably more heinous than any his uncle has or could commit. At his end, Amleth has visions of riding to Valhalla, as if his revenge was worth it. Yet, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it’s not clear that such revenge truly was, worth it.
Amleth and his counterpart, within the mediums of stage and screen, both convey the same message, the blurring of the line between revenge and reality. Both The Northman and Hamlet implicitly ask viewers a key question, at what point is anything not worth it anymore. Clearly, from their main characters, the knowledge of such a line is of utmost importance. You may think you know where that line lays, but per the ever-wise Chris Haskett, “Shakespeare is timeless because people don’t learn”. Learn from The Northman, learn from Hamlet, learn from Mr. Haskett, and realize when it’s time to stop doing something: when it becomes detrimental to the self.