To understand The NorthmanA Viking epic of revenge that is bloody and brilliant but also brutally insane, inspired by an Icelandic folktale. HamletIt is worthwhile to briefly reflect on the world journalism.
Over the years the news media debated the question of ethics and practice. Should they offer judgments on their subjects? Do they need to show their subjects in the light they see them, so readers can gain insight into their motivations and thoughts, rather than passing judgment?
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery was the most vocal call to judgment. He has encouraged news media to use “moral clarity” to distinguish it from “neutral objectivity,” which he claimed in 2020.It is easy to lie to yourself. Lowery, a skilled reporter whose work has benefitted the public, won a Pulitzer for his innovative project that tracked police shootings. Lowery’s fight against journalismic neutrality — a standard that is impossible even when set with earnestness – has much to be admired. The quest for moral clarity often leads to boring and predictable editorializing in articles that claim to be news.
Hollywood has seen something similar, perhaps even before the topic of journalism was a hot debate, in particular with films and television shows set in the distant past. It is not uncommon to view past eras using the current cultural and political debates. However, it can also be a temptation to moralize or speechify about sins from the past by applying modern standards and values in places and times that may not have been able to understand them. It is nearly always the same lesson, but it is often smug and self-satisfying: Sin and cruelty were common in the past; today’s educated moderns are able to see this clearly.
It’s plausible in certain ways. Moral instruction has always been provided by stories that are just-so. One cannot escape the dictatorial perspective of their own lives. Many people, including me, seem to love a profoundly righteous monologue where a wrongdoer can be made to see the errors of his ways even though its existence or content makes no historical sense.
But one thing that fiction—movies, novels, television shows, and so forth—can do is help readers and viewers understand the mindset of primitive eras by attempting to portray the practices of those eras as they were understood at the time rather than as we understand them now. The goal of this storytelling is not to cast judgement or imprint modern values on historical societies. This is not to show another time or another place, nor another person, but how they see themselves.
Hence, The NorthmanRobert Eggers directs the tale of Viking revenge. Eggers’ 2015 debut, The WitchThe horror story, ‘, was historically correct and intensely real. It brought viewers into 1600s New England colonists’ lives, who saw the world as dark, mystical, and full of danger. Mysticism did not exist as a quasi-technical overlay over nature. Dungeons & Dragonsspell was not part of nature. This created a moral universe that was very different.
The NorthmanEggers again delivers Similar obsessive detail research for periods.He burrows in the spirit-haunted, bloody world of Viking culture, this time with a much grander display.
It is a magical and barbarous realm of demons and gods. In it, nature can only be described as an enchanted force possessing its own personality. Eggers staged many strange, violent rituals with meticulous detail. They are both a source for interpersonal connections and a means of trying to understand nature’s mysteries. It is all-consuming to be a part of kin and clan relations. Life is precious and short lived, particularly for Viking warriors who see themselves as animals as well as humans. This is why they all fall under the natural law of force, killing, plundering, taking, often simultaneously, for pleasure, necessity, amusement and glory.
This movie is horrific, abominable, and absolutely horrifying. Yet while the movie depicts scenes of abject horror—at one point, following a raid on a town, the protagonist’s band of warriors set fire to a hut locked full of townsfolk—it offers no judgment, no lecture, no wink to modern mores, no inevitable comeuppance for the perpetrators. Their view of themselves was not that they were atrocious atrocities-committing abominations, but that they were a pack made up of man-wolves with the same rights as other wolf packs to attack the weak. They are shown in the movie as they see themselves.
The NorthmanThe result is that the movie lacks the moral clarity you would call. Does it really have neutrality and objectivity? It’s probably not. What could that be? However, it does not render any judgment about the Viking horrors other than the judgement that the Viking warriors themselves rendered.
And it’s not only a better movie for it, it’s a more truthful one—or at the very least, a more useful one. This is the trailer. The NorthmanIt aims to make us feel more comfortable with the familiar by introducing us to a culture or mindset that we do not already understand.