The Northman Director Robert Eggers Is Sick of Cinema’s Modern “Tiresome, Lame, Commercial Culture”

Source: The Northman, Robert Eggers (Variety), The Witch

Robert Eggers certainly isn’t the most mainstream-minded of filmmakers, making his mark as he did with thrillers The Witch and The Lighthouse. Experimental and the darlings of critics, both are made to appeal to the indie market more than the theatergoers flocking to Top Gun: Maverick.

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Going all out in 2022, Eggers went for broke with The Northman, a high-octane actioneer historical piece which unfortunately failed to light up its target audience. Eggers did receive the fondness of critics, including Bounding Into Comics, which is a dividend amid confusion about his message.

“I’m very grateful that most people who have been writing about this movie understand my intentions, which is great,” he said in an interview with Slash Film.  “Every once in a while, when people are saying it’s glorifying violence and masculinity and this kind of thing, it confuses me,” he continued, “But I think that when you try to impose contemporary morals on the past, when you’re telling the story, you just lose a lot of…you lose it.”

Source: The Northman (2022), Focus Features

While there is a lot of juxtaposing modern rules and morals in relation to historical periods in the modern cinematic climate, Eggers strove to be authentic to the Viking Age, and its matter-of-factness when it comes to the way of the warrior. 

“I’m trying my very best to articulate the physical material world of the Viking age accurately, and also the Viking mindset without judgment,” he explained. “And so that is brutal work. You know? So then it’s for the audience to come to their own conclusions about this stuff. And if I’m going to do that, it’s impossible to be sanitized,” Eggers added.

Source: The Northman

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He admitted being non-sanitized in the art of cinema, which is an uphill battle when producers want to dial back grim material, but getting his own way creatively is an equally salient issue which conjures envy in Eggers toward the old ways of storytelling.

“This sounds super uber-precious, but I think it’s hard to do this kind of creative work in a modern secular society because it becomes all about your ego and yourself,” he said, recognizing the auteur cannot simply make films for an audience of one.

“And I am envious – this is the horrible part – I’m envious of medieval craftsmen who are doing the work for God. And that becomes a way to… you get to be creative to celebrate something else,” he continued.

Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth in Focus Features’ THE NORTHMAN.

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As a filmmaker working for a studio, Eggers observed “You’re censoring yourself because it’s not about like me, me, me, me, me, me. So you say, ‘Oh, I got to rein that back because that’s not what this altarpiece needs to be.’” Closing on the thought, he said, “Any worldview where everything around them is full of meaning is exciting to me because we live in such a tiresome, lame, commercial culture now.”

Outlets like No Film School hit the nail on the head in surmising Eggers would rather stay away from that culture to keep exploring man in a state of isolation and obsession.

Ingvar Sigurdsson as The Sorcerer in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC

On the other hand, he is well aware that even the most ambitious folks have to survive in the industry by leaving “more than one pot on the stove” at once. In service to that exigent end, he is working on a Nosferatu remake – a project right up his alley. However, as interesting as that one is for Eggers to take on, it is stuck in a preliminary phase. “I hope it’s still happening too,” he says.

The desire to do another kind of gothic-imbued horror set in New England to complete a trilogy which began with The Witch is also on his mind, but file the idea as another “what-if,” at least for now.

(l to r.) Oscar Novak stars as Young Amleth, Ethan Hawke as King Aurvandil and Nicole Kidman as Queen Gudrún in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Aidan Monaghan / © 2022 Focus Features, LLC

“I definitely do need to do one more New England folktale. I think that needs to be some kind of a trilogy,” Eggers said. “So at some point, I’m going to have to do one more of those.” A spiritual sequel to The Lighthouse is not a sure thing, although The Northman is if you want to see it. The Viking epic is now available on digital, and streaming on Peacock.

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