Arctic, by Albert W. Vogt III

The first film in which I recall seeing Mads Mikkelsen was Casino Royale (2006).  He played Le Chiffre, the villain opposite James Bond (Daniel Craig).  He made for a great bad guy, and that is a role that I have seen him fill in a number of other films.  We tend to look at people with thick foreign accents as being shady.  This is a legacy of American cinema that, unfortunately, goes back many decades.  Mikkelsen, being Danish, fits that category.  It is not a label I think he is comfortable with as evidenced by much of his recent work.  One movie in this regard that stands out is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).  The one I am analyzing today is Arctic (2018).  This might be my favorite example of his work to date.

A title like Arctic does not give much away, aside from the location.  That is where we meet Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen).  He is hacking at the snow, tossing aside chunks of rock whenever he encounters them.  Soon, there is an overhead shot and you understand the purpose of his exertions.  In giant letters is spelled out “SOS” scrawled into the ground.  The reason for his message writ large, as quickly becomes apparent given the nearby crashed airplane, is that he is stranded.  It should be noted that there is virtually zero dialog in this movie, so I am describing actions rather than words.  Those actions are mainly directed at rescue and survival.  The rescue part involves going up to the top of a nearby hill and activating a crank powered beacon.  He also takes time to examine the territory around him, contemplating an eventual trek over frozen wastelands.  The polar bear he spots in the distance, and other signs of its presence, caution against such a course.  Survival consists mainly of keeping track of his fishing lines and stocking up on his catches.  It is monotonous, underscored by the robotic way in which he eats what is likely the latest in several fish meals.  A change comes one day while operating his beacon.  With a storm rolling in, his signal is located by an aircraft.  With wind and snow picking up, he hears the sound of an approaching helicopter and excitedly gets up to signal his presence with a smoke cannister.  He is spotted, but the helicopter is being thrown about by gales.  He watches in horror as it veers away and falls to the earth some yards away.  When he makes it to the crash site, he finds the pilot (Tintrinai Thikhasuk) dead, but the co-pilot (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) miraculously still alive.  He pulls her from the wreckage, taking her back to his downed plane and tending to her wounds.  She is barely conscious, but seemingly stable for the moment.  With her in this condition, he goes back to the helicopter to forage for supplies.  His best find is a map.  He had been using a crude, hand-drawn layout of the surrounding area.  This allows him to better plot out a course that he thinks will lead to safety.  Once his course is plotted, he straps the mostly motionless body of the co-pilot to a sled and heads in the correct direction.  It is tough sledding.  Sorry, I could not resist that one.  Puns aside, he makes pretty good progress until he gets to a ridge that is not on the map.  To go around it would add more days to an already difficult journey, and put them on a path more exposed to the elements.  As such, he attempts to pull the co-pilot and the conveyance to which she is attached over the hill, but it is no use.  After a number of failed tries, he decides to go around.  Remember the polar bear I mentioned?  After taking shelter in a cramped cave, he hears its enormous snout snuffing around outside.  They say that the key to driving off a bruin is to act big and it will turn away.  He does this, though the flare that he lights helps.  All the while he is pulling her along and doing his best to sustain her.  Unfortunately, after once more getting into the lee of a rock outcropping, he finds that she is no longer alive.  She is not responding to him asking her to squeeze his hand, and there is blood at the corner of her mouth.  Feeling there is nothing more to be done for her, he makes sure there is a picture of her family in her hand and heads away.  This is when the floor, or more accurately the ice, literally falls out from underneath him.  Coming to, he finds himself the bottom of a crevasse with his leg pinned under a rock.  I had to avert my gaze during the scenes, but the long and short of it is that he is able to free himself at the cost of a broken leg.  He then crawls out of the cave and arduously makes his way back to where he had fallen through the snow.  Upon his return, he finds that the co-pilot has regained a modicum of consciousness.  Now, with a fractured tibia, he continues on dragging her behind him.  Leaving her behind for a moment to scout ahead, he manages to mount another ridge, only to see a helicopter landing a couple hundred yards away.  They do not spot him immediately, so he slides down the slope to get the co-pilot, pushes her back up the hill, and uses his last flare out of desperation to get the attention of the helicopter crew.  When this does not appear to work, he resorts to burning his coat to create extra smoke.  Despite all this, the helicopter takes off and heads in the opposite direction.  He sinks to his knees trying to comfort the co-pilot but he has used the last of his energy.  Not all is lost, though, as the helicopter lands behind them shortly thereafter . . . and roll credits.

The only disappointing part of Arctic is the ending.  As for everything else, though I would not call myself a survival expert, I have watched a lot of those types of those shows (okay, mainly Bear Grylls stuff) and all the measures he takes seem to align with what Bear Grylls would tell him to do.  My reason for not liking the ending stems from my admiration for Overgård that grew as the film continued.  I wanted to see them fully rescued rather than the suggestion at the end.  His behavior towards the co-pilot touched my Catholic heart.  Have you ever wondered where we get the expression “going the extra mile?”  That is a Biblical saying.  Indeed, scripture is full of examples of people helping their fellow man in times of need.  Overgård does this, but in a saintly fashion.  Surviving in the Arctic is no easy task, to say the very least, and that is for one person.  How many of you can honestly say that, when you are struggling to remain alive, that you would have done as he did?  Thankfully, for most of us, our daily lives are not presented with life-or-death scenarios like we see in the movie, or at least not in a physical sense.  The decisions we make affect our souls, and the more those decisions lead to sin, the more we risk an eternal death.  This is just as dire as anything in the film, though, granted, harder to see.  Still, that does not make it any less real.

Okay, I let myself get on this preaching tangent as afforded by this review of Arctic.  Nonetheless, I stand by what I say because I really do care about your soul.  It is what keeps this blog going.  When I see a film like this one where the main character behaves so virtuously, I want to celebrate it.  Please, if you are choosing films, give this one a shot.

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