The Northman and the Seeress

By Moira Jean Sullivan

The Northman is a highly crafted new film by US director Robert Eggers written by Icelandic author Sjón. The film is steeped in Old Norse mythology and set in 10th century Iceland. Old Norse later developed into the dialects of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The set design and historical setting of the film was meticulously researched with a team of experts. The film uses FMX sequences such as an ongoing erupting volcano with naked Viking duels on molten lava.

The Viking prince, Young Amleth (Stellan Skarsgard) witnesses his father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) killed and his mother Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) carried off by his uncle Fjölnir -The Brotherless (Claes Bang). Amlet spends several years planning to revenge these deeds. He consults with a Seeress (Björk dressed in a woven coarse barley headdress, with cowrie shells and chicken feet) and is aided by mystical fairies and creatures such as ravens put on his path. Viking seeresses worked with rituals and prophecies and assisted the gods such as Odin and Thor.

Grown Amleth howls like a dog and is full of vengeance. His body armor consists of massive shoulders, a pumped up six pack and contorted angry face. He poses as a farmer and climbs into a wooden sea vessel bound for his uncle’s land. On the voyage is another seeress, Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy) so the journey becomes not only one of revenge but love.

The cinematography of The Northman is by Californian Jarin Blaschke, editing by Louise Ford, costume design by Linda Muir and production design by Craig Lathrup. All worked on Robert Eggers two other films – The Lighthouse (2015) and The Witch (2013). The caliber of Eggers' films and cast and crew with Nordic influences makes him a serious evolving film artist. Certainly, his stable of regulars such as Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy are rewarding to see in work that progresses in quality.

The visual architecture of The Northman is breathtaking though all the shots are filmed in the UK not Iceland. The Witch and The Northman are closely related films of ritual and cruelty, but The Witch is filmed in soft daylight whereas The Northman is heavily steeped in darkness and special effects.

The coarse life of Viking Northmen is far from civilized society with warriors, rapists, and butchers. Villages are ransacked and their grass huts are torched. It is a terrible time to be a woman confined to the kitchen or laundry and who are constantly sexually assaulted. Only a Queen can escape the plight of the ordinary woman but even she is often abused.

As rich as the cinematic language of The Northman, the story is patriarchal and cruel. Eggers who thanks Ari Aster, director of Midsommar (2019) set in a fictive Sweden filmed in Hungary could have enhanced Völuspá – the prophecy of the Volvä or Seeress of the Poetic Edda of Norse mythology. When Olga claims she is not a Valkyrie she is seen in the afterlife on a horse in the sky guiding Alsmeth from his capture by Fjölnir and back to her.

Ironically, the six season Xena Warrior Princess cult series featured episodes with Odin and the Valkyries which better addressed the female Valkyrie and faeries of Norse mythology


© 2022 - Moira Jean Sullivan: 05/03/22
Movie Magazine International