The Northman: Let’s talk about that scene from Bonkers Nicole Kidman
This post contains spoilers for The man from the north.
Nicole Kidman spends most of his time The man from the north lurking on the edge of history. She plays Queen Gudrún in the Viking epic, the iron wife of King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), whose return home after a near-fatal battle overseas sets the story in motion. Gudrún begins the film resigned to sitting faithfully by her side, tending to their son and quietly presiding over the dinner festivities. It doesn’t take long to wonder why a scene-stealer like Kidman was cast in such a seemingly small and quiet role. That question remains unanswered until a twisted monologue scene in the film’s third act, which finally brings out all of Kidman’s wild instincts.
It takes a while to get there, though. After the king is killed by his brother Fjölnir, the young prince Amleth (played as a child by Oscar Novak and in adulthood by alexander Skarsgard) must Fjölnir be away from home. While doing so, he gets one last glimpse of his mother, watching her cry over the violent betrayal. (Or so he thinks!) For the rest of the film, his mantra is simple: “Avenge the father. Save mother. Kill Fjolnir. His mother, imagines Amleth, suffered alongside Fjölnir, forced to marry the man who killed her beloved husband.
Over a decade later, after Amleth has grown into a towering Viking warrior, he arrives at the farmland over which Fjölnir and Gudrún presides, posing as an enslaved prisoner. Although his mother seems to have a fairly peaceful life as Fjölnir’s wife, he sets his plan in motion, slaughtering Fjölnir’s men and revealing his true identity to his mother in her house.
It is then that Gudrún tells her estranged son the truth: she never loved her father. In fact, she was happy when he died and wanted Fjölnir to kill Amleth as well. Her match with Aurvandil was diabolical, she says, telling him that she had been given to the king as a slave and that Amleth was the product of rape. “Your father put up with me because I gave him a son,” she told him.
It’s at this point that Kidman finally gets to get a little off balance, eating the camera with her cruel revelations. Until now, Gudrún lives mainly as a memory of Amleth, a royal object without an inner life of its own. This scene turns all that on its head, revealing just how naive Amleth’s projections have been. She is thriving! Walk around the village with her new beau! Rebuild his life, take care of his new son! She is unwavering as she tells all of this to Amleth, shrinking him down to size with her words. Then, after revealing his truth, Gudrún takes things in an Oedipal direction, planting a kiss on his estranged son. It’s a distraction so she can try to kill Amleth, but she fails and he quickly drives a sword through her heart.
Kidman excels at this kind of tempered mania, deftly elevating arthouse drama by tackling complicated characters brimming with dark thoughts – the shrewd, grinning fame-seeker in Die for; the bored swan of Eyes wide open Shut; the bizarre beauty of the south of Newspaper deliverer; the disturbed mother in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. In The Nordic, its screen time is far less than audiences might have expected, though that’s probably by design. What would be the surprise if we could feel all along that Gudrún did not want to be saved? This scene offers an explanation for Kidman’s casting, taking advantage of his talent and penchant to ground a series of out-of-this-world reveals.
It is also one of the few scenes in The man from the north without cinematic bells and whistles, valuing the craft of acting above all else. In a movie full of physically taxing effort, including a highly choreographed raid scene and a naked battle scene, this scene lets Kidman herself deliver the mayhem. For Eggers, she was a dream anchor in the midst of a tough shoot. “It was really so nice to be able to do some detailed scene work instead of a goddamn action sequence,” he recently said. vanity lounge, praising Kidman’s performance. “It’s one of the scenes I’m really proud of.”
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