The Northman was a “painful experience” says director Robert Eggers


pare a thought for the director of epic film The Northman, Robert Eggers, who has called making the film “the most painful experience of my life.”

Set in the 10th century, The Northman tells the story of Amleth (a story from a 12th century Saxo Grammaticus book that Shakespeare ultimately adapted to write Hamlet), a boy who witnesses the murder of his father by his uncle.

22 years later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is all grown up and hatches a plan to get revenge on said uncle (who is also now King) by infiltrating his camp as a Slavic slave alongside Olga, played by Anya Taylor-Joy.

Costing $90m to make and scooping several 5-star reviews, The Northman is undoubtedly an epic – and, in an interview with Dazed, Robert Eggers said that it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get the feel right.

“The hero can be a criminal and a psychopath, and the villain can be a good husband and father. I’m trying to present the Viking outlook without judgment,” Eggers explained.

“I wasn’t interested in Vikings initially. The right-wing misappropriation made me even less interested. But I went to Iceland and the landscapes made me think, ‘What’s more elemental than a naked swordfight on top of a volcano?’”

Featuring heavy hitters Ethan Hawke, Bjork, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman and others, Eggers also explained how he tried to walk the line between using violence as storytelling and glorifying it.

“I went to the tech check and watched the final swordfight, and I can’t believe I made something that insanely macho. But I wonder if it’s to do with the antitheses that you began this interview with. Sometimes the violence needs to be thrilling because that’s the source material and worldview of Viking culture. Also, it needs to perform like Gladiator at the box office. But I don’t want to glorify violence as a filmmaker. How do I walk that line? I don’t know.”

And the painful part? Getting it all done.

“This is my movie, the way I wanted it,” Eggers said. “And the studio pressure made it better. It was not fun. It was the most painful experience of my life. But I needed to go through it, and they needed to push me to make the most entertaining Robert Eggers movie I could.”

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