Plot: What’s it about?
I don’t think we realize how big the world is until something goes wrong. An ex-girlfriend of mine (there’s a reason why she’s an ex, by the way!) told me that I live in a box. I wasn’t sure what to think. But she was right. Then again, don’t we all live in a box? Aren’t our lives dictated by routine? So what happens when things don’t go according to plan? What happens when we’re forced to think outside those boxes we live in? Thankfully there’s a particular genre of movie that explores this. My high school English teacher would be happy to know that it’s called Man vs. Nature (or in some cases Man vs. himself, or both). How about that Mrs. Kidd! Are you proud of me now? Kidding aside, films like this really explore what humans are made of. What would really do if this proverbial shit hit the fan? Some would run away, others might take their own life. But in situations like these, it shows what we’re really made of.
Mads Mikkelsen plays Overgård, someone who spends his days surviving in the arctic by clinging to his series of rituals. He relies on his various contraptions for food, shelter and transportation. Mikkelsen plays him through a series of actions, as opposed to a personality. He’s missing a few toes, his feet are purple but he’s alive. Seeing a helicopter fly over his camp, he signals them (via a flare). The chopper attempts to land, but gets caught up in the wind, crashes and kills its pilot. He meets the passenger, a young woman (María Thelma Smáradóttir). He saves her and never questions why. With an injured body now in his care, Overgård realizes that it’s time to leave the safety of his camp and look for help.
There are a lot of films like this and I tend to like them all. I’m constantly amazed at what we, as a species, are truly capable of. The movie, to me, that this most parallels, is one of Robert Redford’s finest efforts: All is Lost. Both don’t have a lot of dialogue, a small cast and we learn things about them not through narrative, but through what the camera wants us to see. And, without giving too much away, both feature a rather ambiguous ending that lets the viewer make the ultimate choice. Mikkelsen is just as good, if not better, than Redford was in the aforementioned film. Not many actors can command a screen, but he pulls it off here. Arctic reminds us of the vast cruelness that is nature. I’m not saying everyone needs to have an experience like this to appreciate what you have, but it makes “living in a box” a lot more palatable.
Video: How’s it look?
Tómas Örn Tómasson’s cinematography is sublimely severe and unyielding, capturing the hard, angry flatness of white, ice-covered landscapes denuded of any sense of poetry or the otherworldly. Writer/Director Joe Penna tells us, in the included featurette, how special wide angle anamorphic lenses were shipped in so that the vast landscape could be showcased. It’s a pictorially beautiful landscape, but it’s also a landscape that is profoundly anti-human, almost impossible to process in terms of scale or shape. Universal’s 2.40:1 AVC HD image is simply stunning.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Contrasting nicely with the video is the somewhat subdued DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. This isn’t a movie that will showcase pages and pages of dialogue. And I highly doubt Mikkelsen had to stop shooting and say “line?” It’s not that kind of a film. There are moments, of course, the helicopter crash does a nice job as does the scene in which he’s avoiding a polar bear, but apart from that we mainly get some ambient effects (wind, mostly). It also helps to convey the vast emptiness that is the arctic (well, technically Greenland).
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Deleted Scenes
- The Story Behind Arctic – Writer/Director Joe Penna gives us a brief history of his filmmaking experience (he got his start on YouTube), what led him to this project and some of the more technical (read: challenging) aspects to this shoot.
- Mads Mikkelsen Featurette – Mikkelsen gives us a bit of backstory on his character, reveals that he has his own story (that he won’t share with us) and explains some of the challenges of the shoot, it’s overall theme and what led him to the role.
The Bottom Line
In the “survival” genre of films, I’m reminded of several of my personal favorites: Adrift, Cast Away, Wild, Into the Wild, and 127 Hours. Each put their characters through hell, but it also serves as a great reminder as to what we’re capable of. Hopefully this film will find some new life on the home video format. It’s a testament to the filmmakers and to the amazing prowess of Mads Mikkelsen as an actor.