Sometimes abstract just doesn’t work.
Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen), stranded in the freezing titular wilderness, makes his last desperate attempts for survival amidst complete isolation, until a striking turn of events finds him no longer a solitary fighter.
Not to be confused with Mads’ significantly worse Polar which came out only weeks ago, Arctic’s bona fides are first and foremost Mikkelsen’s performance and the environment in which it takes place. What was no doubt a punishing 19-day Icelandic shoot which the lead described as the most difficult of his career, having viewed the flick situated in an albeit more enclosed corner of the eponymous region this author at least found the conditions facing Overgard that much more palpable and welcomely unexaggerated.
Beautiful to behold throughout and all the more so for the unusual backdrop, films are uncommonly shot in such freezing conditions for performers and equipment alike don’t always fare too well. Bringing his signature brooding brand of stoicism to Overgard, Mikkelsen is captivating as, necessary to his umpteenth costuming, the actor reliably imparts a deft range of emotions with little more than a glance or glare.
It is in the telling though that Arctic stumbles as we ourselves are imparted little to no quintessential knowledge about a character with whom we are spending an hour and a half. Bare background is given as to who Overgard is, how long he has been here or the circumstances which rendered him so. Sure we don’t need a heft of Lost style flashbacks but the form and too an explanation of the character’s life prior and immediately prior to being stranded (ala Castaway) sets the stakes and helps us engage with them that much more.
Likewise having limited context for the extent of the precarious position Overgard is in, when it too comes to moral decisions he must make we are bereft of context as to the internal crises he faces. Is he weak-willed, now devoid of strength or traditionally self-preserving to the exclusion of all else? We don’t know and this is where we are denied a finite character arc so crucial to near any and essentially this survival tale.
While the intention may very evidently have been to impress our own understandings or relate more broadly to Overgard, the result is something less arresting for having given us precious little to comprehend and consequently empathise with our struggler. The abstract approach proving misgiving in this case, the vistas, replete with Mads or no, are still a sight to relish even absent a roundly compelling story.