They just don’t make movies like they used to. Everything these days has some sort of message or commentary and it seems to beat the watcher over the head with it.
That’s why watching The Northman and The Green Knight was a much needed sojourn from the socially justice charged dreck so prevalent in this day and age.
The two movies felt more like throwbacks to a simpler time when a person could watch just for enjoyment and if one wanted to take the time to think about the themes and message, it was possible, but it wasn’t necessary to appreciate them.
Both movies are similar in many ways.
Each one is has a quasi-historical feel with healthy doses of the fantastic thrown in. Both were influenced in some way by much older stories. Each has similiar themes upon consideration, making them further alike.
The Northman is the newest of the duo, only just released theatrically earlier this year. It stars Alexander Skarsgard as Amleth, a displaced and dispossessed Viking prince bent on obtaining revenge for his murdered father.
The movie is directed by budding auteur Robert Eggers known for The Witch and The Lighthouse.
The story is familiar to any English Literature student as it is loosely based on the old Danish folktale William Shakespeare used as inspiration for his play Hamlet.
The similarities to Shakespeare are hidden well, but they are there nonetheless.
With pop culture seemingly in love with all things Viking, there is plenty to enjoy. One gets a glimpse at the culture and beliefs in the movie as well as some great action.
The overarching themes of The Northman is facing who you are and whether we are truly tied to destiny and fate and is it something that defines us or can it be up to us to make our own way in our lives.
There are some great instances in the movie bordering on otherworldly and fantastic events.
That leads to one of the problems I have with it as a whole and a problem I’ve had with other movies directed by Eggers.
The fantasy element is often presented in such a way as to make the moviegoer question what is really going on, almost like Eggers really doesn’t want to commit to something definite.
Eggers also has a tendency to leave the viewer behind. If the watcher can’t keep up with all that is going on with the events and the mishmash of names, oh well, too bad. That in itself can hurt enjoyment and appreciation of the movie.
The Green Knight was released last year and details the adventures of Sir Gawain and his quest. It stars Dev Patel as Gawain and is directed by David Lowery.
The story is drawn from the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It has been retold in one form or another in countless ways and adapted for the silver screen and television numerous times.
It’s a story many already know, so for Lowery to bring his own spin on the tale and leave an impression says something about his ability as a director.
Set in King Arthur’s Camelot, a person and place debated as actually existing, it embraces its fantastical bases wholeheartedly and doesn’t leave any doubt for the viewer.
The setting is otherworldly, outside of time if you will and at the same time historic with old ruins dotting the countryside during Gawain’s travels.
The camera work and setting is in itself as much of a character as any one actor and it has an ethereal and dreamlike quality not seen in movies since at least the 1970s or 80s.
In many ways one can see the influence of those bygone decades in its presentation.
The story deviates only slightly from the source material and weaves a coherent narrative as Gawain grows and matures as a knight before the viewer’s eyes.
The themes are those of integrity and character and that a person’s fate is up to them.
The Green Knight kind of falls apart in the last third of the movie, though.
The tight cohesion of the narrative slogs toward the end and is bogged down by some oddly questionable events with the ending being left open-ended.
The ambiguity of the ending, according to the director, was on purpose.
One has to question moviemakers who want to do this. At one time it was fresh and interesting, but if everyone is doing it, doesn’t it lose import and purpose?
Also, most high school and college students familiar with the story will know how it ends anyway. So just how ambiguous is it really?
Overall I would highly recommend The Northman and The Green Knight. I feel as if the two movies are rare in cinema in this day and age. Both leave you feeling satisfied and entertained, for the most part. They are definitely worth watching one evening at home.
Be advised, these movies aren’t for children.
My only piece of advice is to pay attention, these aren’t “popcorn flicks” and will possibly make you think, but there are things that happen that if you blink you’ll miss it and you may end up lost.
The Northman is currently available to
be streamed on Peacock. The Green Knight can be streamed on Showtime’s streaming app.