ARCTIC – Mads Mikkelsen taking on Mother Nature

I love a good survival tale and I bloody love a good snow laden survival tale like ARCTIC (do not confuse with Mads’ POLAR out on Netflix). It can go either way with solo survival tales. Can the actor maintain your attention for 90+mins all on their own with limited dialogue? Generally, as long as the filmmakers can keep it interesting. Most films tend to insert options where the individual can talk. 127 HOURS has James Franco talking to a video camera, my much loathed CASTAWAY has TOM HANKS talking to a ball and then there is the hallucination angle utilised by films such as ADRIFT or, again, 127 HOURS.

An occasional survival masterpiece comes along, a harrowing movie that has it all. ARCTIC is one of those films, as was the most amazing ALL IS LOST with Robert Redford back in 2013. Two master actors that keep you so enthralled with their actions and facial expressions that you have no time to become disengaged by the lack of dialogue.

ARCTIC releases tomorrow, Feb 14th (Happy Valentine’s) in Australia from Umbrella Entertainment. It is rated M and runs for 97mins. For cinemas screening the movie in Australia please click HERE.

Arctic Mads Mikkelsen image
Mads Mikkelsen

BY JASON KING

ARCTIC SYNOPSIS:

Reminiscent of solo survival films ALL IS LOST, THE GREY and THE MARTIAN, ARCTIC tells the tale of a man stranded in the Arctic finally about to receive his long-awaited rescue. However, after a tragic accident, his opportunity is lost. He must then decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown for potential salvation.

Arctic Mads Mikkelsen image
Mads Mikkelsen

IT’S MADS MIKKELSEN – THAT IS ALL:

I mean does anything else really matter for this or any of his films? Danish Mads is a cinematic force that guarantees bums on seats. I briefly amused myself that this was Hannibal escaping on a plane, from wherever, who then crashes in the North Pole and uses his extreme organisational and survival genes to maintain his life. The character rarely speaks and you don’t know anything about him. He is merely listed as Overgård in the credits. It would appear he is a supply pilot.

Overgård has mastered survival in this isolated, harsh and barren wilderness. He is sheltering in his downed plane, it can protect him from the elements, he has a routine that is well displayed to you and relies on him following a strict schedule. He catches fish through the ice for food, he tries his radio at set times during the day in an attempt to get rescue and he keeps on his toes to stay safe from polar bears. The harsh wilderness sounds regularly interrupted by the beeping of Overgård’s watch alarm, keeping him on schedule.

Having salvation snatched from him Overgård is put into an incredible predicament. Comfort zone with death or possible death on the way to salvation? Stuck between a cold rock and a harder cold place the journey to salvation is wonderful to witness. Mads has a showdown with a polar bear for crying out loud!! It is a cinematic fight I have wanted to see for a while haha. It isn’t quite as gnarly as Liam Neeson battling wolves but the battle cry of Mads will rattle your soul.

DEBUT MOVIE FROM JOE PENNA:

ARCTIC is directed by Joe Penna, a first-time film-maker from Brazil formerly known for his YouTube persona, MysteryGuitarMan. His nuanced look at survival will guarantee we see much more from him. This is a movie that could be viewed by any nationality without subtitles. The film’s rarely spoken language is English, it is filmed in Iceland but it’s core themes are truly universal.

Arctic Mads Mikkelsen image
Mads Mikkelsen

I REPEAT – IT HAS MADS – THAT IS ALL:

This film is purely man v nature, a reminder of just how fragile humanity is when put to the test. And if anyone could defeat nature it’s Mads Mikkelsen. I will go as far to say I think this is probably one of the best survival movies ever made. Mads give the best performance of his career and ARCTIC puts him to task. His performance is mostly about grunts and facial expressions and his face can speak volumes. Mads mostly gives more when he says little. Those eyes staring at the horizon in certain scenes are screaming “I am truly fucked, but I am going to take you on anyway.”

When his journey goes forward one step but has to take two steps backwards the disappointment is evident in his shoulders, but his melancholic acceptance is all said in a few frames with little happening.

Overgård is reduced to pure primal survival but the difference between most of us and Overgård is that he believes the near impossible survival of two people is more important than the more likely survival of one. When he is pushed to the limit of complete exhaustion, hallucinations and loss of self belief he wavers, it is then that everything goes wrong. A beautiful, somewhat karmic, twist that reaffirms his self faith.

Arctic Mads Mikkelsen image
Mads Mikkelsen

IN CONCLUSION:

ARCTIC is releasing on a limited schedule in Australia (see the listed cinemas linked at the start of this review) but it deserves more. It is not a blockbuster, but it is a nuanced masterpiece of human survival and the world needs nothing more in their lives right now than Mads Mikkelsen going into battle with Mother Nature.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.