Directed by Joe Penna.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, María Thelma and Tintrinai Thikhasuk.
A man stranded in the Arctic after a helicopter crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown.
Extreme survival stories are nothing new when it comes to movies; the industry loves high stakes and suspense (see: Gravity, Cast Away, Life of Pi, The Revenant). An isolated protagonist tends to make things even juicier (see previous) – or more uncomfortable, depending on your point of view – which is exactly how we find Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) in Arctic. No information is given about him, other than what can be deduced from his surroundings and behaviour. Stranded in the Arctic Circle, he has been living in the wreck of a plane and, judging by the detail in his daily routine, he has been here for quite some time.
This way of life is presented as quite unforgiving in both its repetition and the way it balances on a knife edge between desperate despair and the almost painful hope of rescue. The stakes here are very much delivered by Mikkelsen’s performance. With minimal dialogue in the entire film (and none at all for the first third), as well as a covered face due to the brutal Arctic conditions, Mikkelsen has only his body and eyes – and odd verbal exclamation – with which to convey his character’s state of mind. He manages real nuance in his expression, so there’s no doubt in how delighted he is to find a larger fish than normal, for example, or a working lighter.
Arctic marks the film debut of María Thelma, who is the figurative and literal load on Mikkelsen’s back as she spends the film (barely) semi-conscious. Piloting a helicopter that attempts to rescue Overgård but crashes in a snow flurry, killing her co-pilot, the injured young woman suddenly becomes a burden for Overgård to bear. Thelma has an even smaller spectrum of signals with which to act or communicate. She does an admirable job, but is mainly there as foil for Overgård and to give him the motivation to attempt to travel through the treacherous conditions towards a possible rescue. When Overgård moves the woman onto the plane’s bed, he holds her fractionally longer than required, and the tender moment suggests just how long he’s been starved of human contact.
The music in Arctic is judiciously used, and quite sparingly. Silence helps convey the enormity – and isolation – of such an overwhelming situation, but Joseph Trapanese’s haunting music also adds awe to the stunning snowscapes through which Overgård must travel. Unsurprisingly, Tómas Örn Tómasson’s cinematography for Arctic is impressive, employing both sweeping shots of far-away vistas, as well as imaginative ways of presenting all the different shades of white.
Overgård, as the everyman with no background or contextualised motivation for the viewer, is seemingly powered only by the natural human instinct to survive – and by a God does he have it! Mikkelsen’s character study is pitch-perfect, even in such difficult conditions. As the linchpin of the film, Overgård requires an actor of Mikkelsen’s calibre in order for an audience to fully identify and sympathise with his struggle – as well as marvel at his ingenuity and integrity. His journey across the snow and ice, towing along his injured companion on a sledge, is brutal, relentless and dangerous. Arctic rides an emotional roller coaster as Overgård struggles with natural enemies, the weight of responsibility for another person’s life (and potential guilt for having caused her crash in the first place?), as well as the ever-decreasing odds of survival. As the situation begins to overwhelm them, Overgård is forced to make heart-breaking decisions, and the film’s tension ratchets up several notches. The closing few moments, however, suggest that Arctic almost wanted to ‘cheat’ the ending, which could prove a little dissatisfying for some viewers who’ve entirely invested in the journey.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★