Okay, so who doesn’t love Mads Mikkelsen? From Pusher to The Hunt to Hannibal and so many other wonderful performances, audiences all over the world love the Danish gymnast-turned-actor, myself included. So, when I discovered that there was a survival film set in the arctic tundra starring this legendary actor, I was definitely intrigued. Although, I must admit that the genre of survival films are usually not my first choice in viewing, because there are so many cringey tropes involved with a lot of them.
Arctic is not free of these tropes but instead uses them to make a different point than most survival films. In Arctic, director Joe Penna felt that it was important to emphasize the act of survival itself, rather than attach any sort of love story (i.e., The Mountain Between Us..sorry Idris and Kate, love you both, but OOF) or sensationalize the survivor into some kind of superhero (i.e., literally every other survival film). Instead, we see how the pure power of human connection and the survival instinct ingrained in humans since the dawn of time are sometimes capable of helping us beat (seemingly) insurmountable odds.
“…the pure power of human connection and the survival instinct ingrained in humans since the dawn of time…”
Mikkelsen plays Obergard, a pilot stranded for an unmentioned amount of time in the arctic tundra (the film was shot in Iceland). He has formed systems for his day-to-day life of survival. He sets up an elaborate ice-fishing rig, He spends hours digging in the snow to fashion a giant SOS sign that will hopefully be visible to planes, and he attempts to charge his radio by a hand crank. He then eats one of the cold fish he catches and sleeps in the body of his crashed plane. This routine has been repeated for an unknown amount of time until one day, Obergard sees a helicopter in the sky. He’s pretty sure he’s going to be rescued until that aircraft crashes as well.
“…has one of the most satisfying endings to an action film that I’ve seen in quite some time.”
At this point, Obergard has a seriously injured nameless young woman to take care of, in addition to himself. This is the point where I was extremely worried that a cheesy love story might begin but thanks to all the gods in cinematic heaven this didn’t happen. Instead, Obergard’s resolve builds and he is determined to get himself and the young woman back to civilization. Naturally, there are several obstacles along the way, including a polar bear (who is not CGI, by the way). While Mads Mikkelsen is not alone for the whole film, being joined by Maria Thelma Smáradóttir as the “young woman” (in a heart-wrenching performance that has very few lines but still conveys a strong pathos), this film is definitely the Mads Mikkelsen show, and it is one of his most powerful, emotive performances to date.
Arctic is an impressive debut feature from Joe Penna, who previously gained a massive amount of popularity via his YouTube channel MysteryGuitarMan (the channel has 2.7 million followers). The cinematography is stunning, and the ingenuity he and his crew possess to shoot this film in extreme weather conditions is laudable. It also has one of the most satisfying endings to an action film that I’ve seen in quite some time. So, please, do go check it out and don’t confuse Arctic with the other icy film Mikkelsen is in right now, Polar.
Arctic (2019) Directed by Joe Penna. Written by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison. Starring Mads Mikkelsen and Maria Thelma Smáradóttir.
8 out of 10 stars