Arctic Review

It is very difficult to add something new to films that involve someone being stranded alone. These movies tend to involve what you expect: a normal person eventually having to adapt to this environment, flashbacks to happier times and the crushing feeling that no one is coming to the rescue. Cliches aside, these stories tend to be very emotionally resonant, as the characters are very easy to identify with. It's a type of situation you don't want to ever imagine yourself being in.

Cast Away is still the best entry into this genre, which includes one of my favourite Tom Hanks performances. It is often funny whilst avoiding inappropriateness, and it somehow manages to make a volleyball getting swept away by the ocean into one of the most devastating moments in cinema. As much as I love it, Arctic is also very poignant. However, the execution of the story wildly differs from Robert Zemeckis' film.

The first obvious difference is that Arctic, indeed, takes place in the Arctic, while Tom Hanks' character was stranded on an island. But the two films also differ largely in tone. Directed by Joe Penna, Arctic contains very little dialogue, in a similar vein to Christopher Nolan's exemplary Dunkirk. Luckily, the beautiful visuals and Mads Mikkelsen's terrific lead performance tell you everything you need to know about what is happening and what the main character is going through. Utilising numerous extreme long shots, the camerawork demonstrates that
Overgård (Mikkelsen's character) is utterly alone in this giant expanse of cold weather and snow. That is, until a helicopter crashes nearby. The pilot doesn't survive the crash, but a female passenger does.

It's a very subtle directorial debut by Penna. Unlike other films concerning this subject matter, the viewer is provided with virtually no insight into Overgård's past. There are no flashbacks or moments when the character delves into his history. All we know about him is that he is stranded and has had to find ways to survive. We're not even sure how long he's been there and why he was venturing anywhere near the Arctic in the first place. The lack of information makes him all the more sympathetic. It's as if he's been there so long that his past life is very distant from him now, as if he can't recall a time when he was truly content. He can't think about anything else other than his mission to be rescued.

The little details are also extremely powerful. There's a shot of Overgård removing his footwear to reveal that he has lost some of his toes (presumably due to the harshly cold weather conditions). Overgård's newfound companion has a family photo that he ensures is kept close to her during their challenging physical and emotional journey. Most notably, Mikkelsen knows how to show a lot of restraint in his performance, so when a rare emotional moment does occur, he gives it his all and doesn't hold back. The last third of the film in particular makes you wince, cringe and tear up in a very short space of time, even though a lot of what we see in this 90-minute story is familiar to even average filmgoers.

It may not break much ground for survival movies (despite it not relying much on dialogue, which is a rarity nowadays). Nevertheless, Arctic is deeply moving because it refuses to fill in all of the gaps in Overgård's narrative. For all we know, he could've been a very unpleasant man before becoming isolated. But Penna knows how to stage this premise in order to make us root for him every step of the way. The slow pace may turn some viewers off, but I implore everyone to stick around for the ending, which closes on one of the most human and powerful shots I have seen in recent years.


The cliches are there, but Penna's nuanced direction and Mikkelsen's emotional lead performance make Arctic a film to remember.


out of 10

Arctic (2018)
Dir: Joe Penna | Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir | Writers: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison


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