Northman director Robert Eggers on his epic “Viking Hamlet”

The first trailer for The Northman, an upcoming Viking epic from director Robert Eggers, debuted today, giving audiences a first look at the filmmaker’s next ambitious project behind The witch and Lighthouse. Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Claes Bang, Björk and Willem Dafoe star in what the official synopsis describes as an “action-packed epic that follows a young Viking prince on his quest to avenge the murder. from his father. . “

In an exclusive interview with IGN, Eggers explained why The Northman is his most popular movie to date (even if it still packs enough offbeat oomph for fans of his past work), his old literary inspirations, his research. in-depth knowledge of Viking culture, and more. .

The Northman is Viking Hamlet

Eggers has confirmed that The Northman is based on the ancient Norse sagas of a vengeful prince who in turn inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “It’s definitely Viking Hamlet. Or as one studio manager put it, “I love this Viking version of The Lion King.” (As you probably know, The Lion King is one of many films loosely based on Shakespeare’s plays.)

While Eggers was growing up, the son of a Shakespeare teacher and has a background in theater, he revealed he was unfamiliar with the Nordic source material that spawned Hamlet:

“Honestly, I didn’t know much about it. I actually didn’t know it, period. Honestly. Basically Alexander Skarsgård and I had lunch and he said he wanted to make a Viking movie and he had been developing Viking movies for a while, trying to shake things up. And I said I had an idea for a Viking movie. I didn’t really have an idea for a Viking movie, I had an ending and I knew I wanted it to be a revenge movie. And then I thought, well, Hamlet is a great revenge story. And then all of a sudden I realized, oh my God Shakespeare was inspired by Saxo Grammaticus, and the story is an Old Norse story. And so, that led me to write a treatment based on that. And very quickly, two years later, we went into production.

The Northman Cast

  • Amleth – Alexandre Skarsgård
  • Queen Gudrun – Nicole Kidman
  • Fjolnir – Claes Bang
  • Olga – Anya Taylor-Joy
  • Thorir the Proud – Gustav Lindh
  • King Aurvandil – Ethan Hawke
  • Clairvoyant – Björk
  • Heimir the Madman – Willem Dafoe

How similar is The Northman to Hamlet?

While The Northman draws inspiration from the Amleth saga of Saxo (yes, Amleth not Hamlet), that’s not the only source Eggers said he drew from his Viking revenge story:

“I don’t do Saxo Grammaticus directly, that’s for sure. And actually, because these are really the writers of the Icelandic saga that I find more inspiring than Saxo, I thought if I could use Hamlet as the main part of the story, I would have this story that everyone else. knows and that everyone can relate to, and then I can indulge in viking culture and make the world building thick, rich and immersive, but no one gets lost. No one is confused because we know the uncle killed daddy, the son has to kill his uncle. The end. You know what I mean? And unlike the protagonist of Shakespeare, who grapples with the idea of ​​murder, if you’re a Viking and someone kills your father, you have to avenge him. There are no questions asked. (So ​​expect much less indecision and gloom from Amleth than you are used to seeing from Hamlet.)

The legend of Amleth contains many of the same basic characters and story elements that later appeared in Shakespeare’s play. Alexander Skarsgård plays Amleth (Hamlet), Nicole Kidman plays Queen Gudrun (Queen Gertrude in Hamlet), Ethan Hawke plays King Aurvandil (Hamlet’s cursed father) and Anya Taylor-Joy plays Olga, who Eggers says is the her film’s equivalent to Ophélie but “only in the fact that she is love interest. And Ophélie, in her madness, has a bit of second sight, but Anya[‘s character] is not crazy. She is a much stronger character than Ophélie.

Given that Hamlet sees his father’s ghost in Shakespeare’s play, how fantastic will The Northman become? “There are mystical and supernatural events in the film because there was a Viking spirit in the inner world,” Eggers explained. “So since we are trying to be Vikings, we have to create the world as they saw it. “

Shakespeare genre films

The language of the man of the North

Both the Witch and the Lighthouse used the dialect of the era to fully immerse audiences in the austere environments of these characters. While The Northman – with whom Eggers co-wrote Lamb co-writer Sjón – similarly uses precise language, the director said these characters wouldn’t sound as “flowery” as those in The Witch or The Lighthouse.

“Sjón, my co-author, and I have tried to make our best version of a beautiful English translation of an Old Norse saga. Having my background as Shakespeare, Sjón would often say, “Chill out. Vikings are more direct and brutal than that. Don’t make it so flowery. They were good poets, but they were simple. And so, it was very nice. And there’s Old Norse and Old Slavic in the movie, and then we consulted linguists, poets, and historians on how to do this. (Some ritual scenes in the film will feature characters speaking Old Norse, while characters whose mother tongue is said to have been Old Slavic will speak this.)

In Search of the Vikings

“We start the film like a lot of sagas start in the Viking diaspora, a bit like some islands in the north of Scotland. And then we travel east and end up spending most of the film in Iceland, ”Eggers explained. “We did a ton of research. And I was working with the best Viking historians and archaeologists, and people in the experimental archeology and living history community, to try to figure out what this Viking world would look like 1,000 years ago. . “

“I think there is a lot that we know about the different Vikings, like in the Celtic world, the Vikings in Iceland, the Vikings in Norway, the Vikings in Sweden, the Vikings in what is now Ukraine . But there’s a lot of things that we have to use a little of this, that, and the other to fill in the gaps because that’s what it is. But to the best of my ability, my staff and I did it in the most authentic way possible. “

“Almost everything we know about Viking clothing comes from graves. So there are things in the sagas that were written years later, hundreds of years later, that we can sort of say that correspond to certain things about burials. So we could be on the right track, but it could be that if a Viking saw this movie, they would see that everyone is dressed as dead. So, we don’t quite know.

The man of the North

Vikings movies

The Northman is far from the first film made about the Vikings, but how many of those past films does Eggers find accurate in their description of sea raiders?

“Not a lot really. There is an Icelandic movie called tlaginn, based on [the] The Gisli saga. This film is quite faithful to the material world. And I hate to say, but the movie (Kirk) Douglas [1958’s The Vikings], for the time, didn’t do a bad job, minus the fact that Kirk Douglas doesn’t have a beard. … It’s a funny movie. It’s a great movie. Look, honestly, people haven’t really tried to make the Viking Age realistically. And I think because it’s a lot of wool and not a lot of cool sci-fi, rock star stuff, I think it wasn’t easy to find a way to do it accurately and do it. look like a real world, but also make people look cool and sexy. And part of that is picking the right people and having the attitude. I mean, if you put Anya or Alex in a potato sack, they’ll still look pretty good.

Viking movies and shows to watch

The Thinking Man movie Conan

The Northman trailer shows Amleth dueling a volcano. Eggers, who described himself as a child who grew up watching Star Wars and Spielberg movies, is aware that some Star Wars fans may see nuances of the climactic duel of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi from Revenge of the Sith in this sequence of fiery battle – much to his chagrin, that would seem.

“It wasn’t as a tribute to that. And if anything, everytime I think about it it makes me a little nauseous, but I’m sure it’s going to happen. It’s okay,” said Eggers on the similarities.

There is, however, one popular genre film that Eggers wholeheartedly embraces as an influence on The Northman: The Sword and Witchcraft Classic of 1982. Conan the barbarian.

“There are probably too many nods to Conan [in The Northman] because I watched it so much when I was a kid. It was also a founding film for Sjón, ”said Eggers. “I definitely joked that it was like Conan the Barbarian meeting Andrei Rublev, and I think neither Milius nor Tarkovsky would have liked this movie.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian in 1982 (Photo: Universal)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian in 1982 (Photo: Universal)

Eggers switches from the A24 to the Focus

A24 has been the national distributor of some of the most acclaimed and quirky genre films of recent years, including The Witch and The Lighthouse. While Universal’s independent division Focus Features released The Lighthouse internationally and Universal managed The Witch overseas, The Northman is Eggers’ first US release to be distributed domestically only. by Focus rather than by A24. Does Eggers then consider The Northman as his first attempt at a truly mainstream release?

The filmmaker said he was “very proud of (his) collaboration with the studio” on The Northman, which he says is still a Robert Eggers film, although he acknowledges it is “not a independent film “in the vein of his last two films. . He sees The Northman as “one great epic adventure story aimed at the general public.” Is this still a Robert Eggers movie and is there any weird stuff? Absoutely. But also, I think the audience is sophisticated enough to want it. Eggers then added that if “it’s this idea that if I do The Lion King, then I can have valkyries as well. You know what I mean? And no one is going to get too lost because they know that the son has to avenge his father, and that is the most important thing.

The Northman will debut in US theaters on April 22, 2022, in the UK on March 18, and in Australia on March 17.

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