Robert Eggers’ new movie is a searing, violent, and disturbing look at one man’s efforts to avenge the betrayal and brutal murder of his father. Though Alexander Skarsgard’s Amleth is the movie’s primary character and protagonist, it is The Northman’s unique blend of individuals that helps to elevate it into the realm of the tragic, demonstrating how singular actions can change the course of many lives.
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The many characters in this drama show many different aspects of their personalities and, as a result, some of them emerge as more likable and appealing than others.
As Fjölnir’s elder son, Thorir is very conscious of his own position, and he is not afraid to exploit his position. He has a cruel streak, and he seems to take a special delight in tormenting Amleth.
He clearly believes that his role as the oldest son gives him a measure of protection from retaliation, and he also views all of the slaves as beneath him. However, even his worldly power isn’t enough to protect him from Amleth’s rage, and he ultimately meets his death at the other man’s hands.
Fjölnir is one of the movie’s most complex characters. While he is perfectly willing and able to betray and murder his own brother, he clearly values and cherishes the members of his family, including his two sons and his wife. However, there’s no denying that he is still an unlikable character, precisely because he has only gained his power and influence on the back of the worst sort of betrayal.
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And, given the heinousness of his actions–he kills his brother while the latter is leaving a religious ceremony–his death at Amleth’s hands comes to seem a fitting punishment (at least in the eyes of the movie).
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Ethan Hawke has been in many fantastic roles, and he brings his considerable star charisma to the character of Aurvandill, Amleth’s father.
While he is clearly a noble king and one who has succeeded on the fields of battle, it is equally clear that he is stubborn, inflexible, and committed to his way of doing things, no matter its impact on others. Thus, though he has honor and dignity, this doesn’t endear him, either to his wife or to those watching him in the audience.
5 The Seeress
The Seeress is one of the more enigmatic characters in The Northman, and it remains unclear whether she is actually real or a figment of Amleth’s imagination. Regardless, she is a key motivator for the plot, as it is her words that goad him into embarking on his path of revenge against his uncle.
Though she is clever and obviously very powerful–with the ability to appear and disappear at will–it has to be said that she is not one of the more likable characters, since her words set in motion a trail of death and destruction.
Willem Dafoe is another veteran actor in the cast with a lot of great films under his belt. Here, he plays the relatively minor role of Heimir the Fool.
Though he enjoys poking fun at the royals at court, he still emerges as one of the movie’s more charming characters. He seems to have a true loyalty to the king, and he plays a key part in initiating Amleth through a strange ritual. He remains committed to the ways of his ancestors, and he wants to make sure others do as well.
Nicole Kidman plays Gudrún as well as any viewer would expect, as the veteran actress is rarely anything less than spectacular. She plays the antiheroine with her signature grace, with a hint of icy savagery. Though it might seem that she is very likable–she does betray her husband and marry his brother–the truth is that she is a woman trying to make the most of her life in a very patriarchal world.
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As a result, it is hard, especially for a modern audience, not to admire her willingness to take what she wants, however she has to.
Hulking and powerful Amleth might be, yet he is also very charismatic. As the titular Northman, his character truly feels like someone worth following.
At first glance, his penchant for brutality and violence make him not very appealing but, as he shows with his relationship with Olga–and even with his moments of compassion toward his mother–there is an inner sensitivity to him, and it is his great tragedy that it has been destroyed by the heinous actions of his uncle and his mother.
Anya Taylor-Joy has also played many great roles, and she brings her considerable charm and charisma to the role of Olga, a Slavic sorceress who becomes the love interest for Amleth. Like him, she has endured a great deal and, like him, she shows that she is willing to do whatever it takes to forge her own destiny.
For this reason, a modern audience is sure to find her very likable, and to cheer her on as she sets out to overcome the people who have enslaved her.
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About The Author
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Thomas J. West III earned a PhD in film and screen studies from Syracuse University in 2018. His writing on film, TV, and popular culture has appeared in Screenology, FanFare, Primetimer, Cinemania, and in a number of scholarly journals and edited collections. He co-hosts the Queens of the B’s podcast with Mark Muster and writes a regular newsletter, Omnivorous, on Substack.
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