Nudity Was A Necessity For The Northman's Climactic Scene

For those familiar with the work of Robert Eggers — the director behind the buzzy Viking epic "The Northman" — it comes as no surprise that his latest film adheres to the same standard of meticulous period accuracy that has come to define his film career. The story begins in the year 895 A.D., off the coast of Celtic Ireland, before moving to Slavonic Central Europe and, finally, to the rocky shores of Iceland. 

Though the entire film was shot in various locations in Ireland, Eggers' team was able to perfectly capture the look and feel of the film's varied settings. In fact, the film's set was so immersive that lead actor Alexander Skarsgård (who plays the vengeful Viking prince Amleth) stated in a recent interview with Indiewire that it was almost too easy to get into character:

"You don't really, as an actor, have to suspend disbelief much because it's all real. When you step onto Fjölnir's [Amleth's uncle, played by Claes Bang] farm in the movie, it's a Viking farm. It was built by scholars, historians, Viking experts. They used the right type of wood. They planted the right type of grass a year before we shot the movie."

Due to this dedication to historical authenticity, the climactic fight scene in "The Northman" also had certain expectations (let's just say that more than one of Amleth's swords is unsheathed). Yet even Skarsgård understood that this wasn't merely a salacious detail added for the voyeurs out there; nudity was an absolute necessity for this scene, even if the mechanics of capturing it ended up leaving more to the imagination than not.

A nude duel

Without giving too much away about one of this year's most hyped films, the climax finds Amleth locked in battle with his fratricidal uncle Fjölnir, with both fighters buck naked as they cross swords on a lake of lava spewed by the nearby volcano. The red-hot magma pooling inches from their bare feet (and not much further from their most precious body parts), the two men finally settle a years-old transgression. The scene is absolutely spectacular to watch, and the fact that both men are naked takes a back seat to the adrenaline-fueled combat choreography. Typical of Eggers' films, however, this nudity is vital to the story, adding a detail set in historical precedence. As Skarsgård explains:

"It was essential to be naked. There are a lot of stories about the Vikings taking their clothes off before a fight for many different reasons. One being to intimidate the opponent. When you're completely naked, you're completely vulnerable. It is a way of showing fearlessness, and also to potentially to shock your opponent. So that was always the plan."

However, as the Indiewire interviewer notes, the duo were not, in fact, totally naked. They wore flesh-toned thongs in order to shoot the scene, employing careful choreography to reveal just enough without giving away that the mighty warriors weren't actually nude.

"We had to be smart about the way we choreographed that sequence and the relationship between us and the camera. We worked on it for many, many weeks before we're shooting it. All those big scenes, you just have to meticulously plan and rehearse and go over it again and again, so you find that fluidity, the flow of the scene."

Unsurprisingly, carefully calculated rehearsals are what make the scene feels so intimate and seamless — yet for Skarsgård, the nudity also proves his own personal viewpoint on what is deemed "okay" to portray on film.

Violence is apparently less offensive than nudity

During the interview, Skarsgård also notes that "The Northman" is incredibly brutal and violent — and yet somehow, the unabashed bloodiness it promises is less offensive than the prospect of full-frontal male nudity in our ultra-puritan society. I mean, he kind of has a point, what with the ever-present debate surrounding sex scenes in movies (in recent years, arguments have arisen that there's never any reason to have a sex scene in a movie). As with the bloody nature of "The Northman," any scenes involving sex and nudity are necessary for the narrative, rather than gratuitous. To have an issue with one transgressive element and not the other, notes Skarsgård, is quite contradictory:

"In our puritanical society, it's easier to portray violence on screen than nudity, which I find quite strange. So you can kill and chop heads left and right, but you can't show any nudity. We had to figure out a way to do this long fight scene [nude], and at one point, there were conversations about, 'Should we just do it shirtless?' But I felt strongly, and Rob did as well, that it was imperative that they would take their clothes off. They're completely naked on this mountaintop."

So when you find yourself flocking to the theater to watch what is arguably the most ambitious film of 2022, allow yourself to be completely absorbed in the meticulous story constructed by Eggers, his cast, and crew — and don't forget to appreciate the details that permeate every frame of "The Northman."