Robert Eggers is interested in the same thing about filmmaking that he enjoyed watching movies as a child: immersion in another reality. “Draw people to the depths of the world. I want them to be there: with the figures at the head of the tall ship, in the ritual dancing around the campfire, in the sword fight of the utmost importance.”
The director presents the Vikings epic “The Northman” in Hamburg. During the interview, he almost begged to see the movie in the cinema. Not on a small screen. He couldn’t stand the idea.
The 38-year-old has only made three feature films. But each of them has such a special signature that goes beyond Hollywood standards that one can confidently count him among the most exciting American filmmakers of the time. His first feature film was the 2015 horror film The Witch, for which he won the Best Director Award at Sundance. The stifling sailor drama “The Lighthouse” followed in 2019, as two men go crazy on a misty island in the Atlantic.
“It reads a lot of old epic stories like the ’80s action script.”
“The Northman” is once again an intense visual experience. In Eggers’ apocalyptic interpretation of the Norse Amythus story, on which Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is also based, Alexander Skarsgård plays a berserker thirsting for revenge, and Bjork whispers black prophecies as a witch in her first film role in 17 years. It’s a film of blood, sweat and dirt, deeply rooted in Icelandic mythology. Like its predecessors, the “Northman” feels like the outskirts of Hell – only heavier. Blood spurts like crazy and cuts a lot of heads.
“I kind of shocked myself that I had made such a manly film,” Eggers says at a stylish hotel in Ulster. He looks elegant, too: his beard is modernly trimmed, the signet rings are on his hands, and his dress is all black. But he doesn’t seem to feel really comfortable on the hard, lacy sofa. Eggers is the guy who would probably rather stand by a frozen cold muddy movie than Hanseatic chandeliers.
The director did not invent brutal fight scenes in his film, he did careful research. For all we know today, the world at the beginning of the tenth century was a violent world. “You read a lot of old epic stories like the action script of the 80s. The scene where Alexander grabs a spear and throws it again – that’s a legend. I always try to show the past in my films without judgment. And these Scandinavian epics are a world of great warriors. They want and they have to fight. “.
Eggers knows about the act of balancing that results from this: “Of course, this is an expensive and complicated business production that should bring in money. The question is how do you organize your action scenes in an exciting and entertaining way without the glorifying violence?” He still seemed not entirely sure whether he succeeded in Find an answer to this question. “Nortman” was his hardest movie. “I was so nervous that I started listening to black metal to relax myself.”
One can imagine that his way of working as a film director hasn’t always matched the specifications of a Hollywood studio and tight shooting schedules. “The Northman” is his first big-budget movie with a production cost of $90 million. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Eggers once again worked with old confidants: photographer Jarin Blaschke, producer Lars Knudsen and actress Anya Taylor-Joy, who once celebrated her feat with “The Witch.” “I’m proud of the result,” he says.
“It would break my heart to have smartphones and computers in my films.”
Born in a small town in New Hampshire, Egger is known for his accurate depiction of bygone eras. He says his love of historical detail goes back to his childhood days, when he would store costumes, swords, and “a lot of books” in his room. Nothing is left to chance in his films. It starts with the historic wool fabrics, the way homes are built, and the dim light. It continues with shields, hounds, and ancient musical instruments. Eggers love to indulge in such details and subtleties. Otherwise, his sentences become fast and abundant when he talks about them. In his film he consulted historians and archaeologists. The result is perhaps the most realistic Vikings movie ever made. That is why, as Eggers laughs, the cast was so important: “The clothes and hairstyles of the Vikings were far from cool and sexy. Fortunately, Alexander and Anya would look good if you put them in potato bags.”
In fact, Robert Eggers has always been “allergic” to anything to do with Vikings. “I loved films like ‘Conan the Barbarian’ as a child, but as an adult I was influenced by that kind of masculinity. I was skeptical about the far right hijacking Norse mythology.” That changed when he traveled to Iceland with his wife in 2016. “It amazed me. Those landscapes. Like another world. Old and wonderful. As if the story didn’t start here.” He began to take an interest in culture. Things accelerate when his lead actor, Alexander Skarsgård, tells him he’s been trying and failing to make a Vikings movie for years. The script was created with Icelandic author Sigurosun. “I needed someone to grow up surrounded by all the supernatural things – earth spirits, elves, mythical traditions – that Icelanders believe in. Sejon was the arbiter for me when it came to whether anything was Icelandic enough.”
Robert Eggers says of himself: “He has a strong affinity for the past. What I love about past cultures is that the world of myth and reality are often the same. There are no boundaries.” So it is unlikely that one of his films will be shown nowadays? “I think it would be heart-wrenching to have smartphones and computers in my films.”
It is fitting that Eggers would like to remake Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s silent classic “Nosferatu” with William Dafoe as his next project. The movie recently turned 100 years old. For someone like Eggers, perhaps beyond is enough.