Arctic is an unforgiving yet inspirational story about a man stranded in the middle of the Antarctic wilderness, who must use every ounce of survival instinct to stay alive in a place without any remorse for human life.
It’s a tense yet almost poetic look at how much we value our lives and what we’re capable of to sustain our own existence.
Mads Mikkelsen excels as Overgård, who has crash landed in his light plane on the barren snow land (we as the audience are introduced only after the accident has occurred) and has already quickly prepared his fight for survival. Such preparations include building makeshift fishing lines deep into the snow and carving through ice and stone to form a massive SOS signal into the ground. And this is only the very beginning as to what he will face.
What Arctic does best is give Overgård and the audience hope that he will get out alive, only to be thwarted by the forces of nature. Such is the case when a near-successful rescue attempt is made by a helicopter, only for it to crash land and have Overgård himself become the savour. After tending to the survivor and rationing what supplies they have, he learns that there is a safe station a few days walk from their location.
This is where Arctic’s threat of the inevitable force of Mother Nature’s wrath really kicks in as Overgård’s survival skills truly test his limitations. Along with pulling the weary and (unnamed) survivor along behind him, he begins his almost impossible journey.
You could almost compare Arctic to the recent and equally brilliant Robert Redford lost-at-sea film, All is Lost (2013), as a distant cousin as it remains almost dialogue-free and relies heavily on and succeeds immensely with Mikkelsen’s (mostly) solo performance. Equally impressive is the direction by Joe Penna who relentlessly puts you through the wringer of what it would actually be like to be stranded in such a place, along with some amazing cinematography by Tomas Orn Tomasson. It’s not an easy feat to pull off to simply focus on one character’s journey and have you so immersed in their actions, but the entire cast and crew pull it off effortlessly.
Whilst Arctic may not break any new ground in terms of storytelling, what it does do is give the best in cinematic survival that one can endure and give you hope that there will be a happy ending that’s never insinuated nor expected. It’s a rough and intense ride, but one that when the final credits roll, you will not regret experiencing.
Received a 10-minute standing ovation at its premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.