Arctic: Mads Mikkelsen’s performance drives the movie forward


Arctic is a survival movie that holds up because of Mads Mikkelsen’s performance. Fans of the genre and of Mikkelsen will enjoy the heart-pounding ride.

Arctic is a film that comes out of the tradition of many survival movies in recent years — most notably The Revenant, The Grey, and The Mountain Between Us. While it does go along with many of the tropes, it also holds some surprises.  Directed by Joe Penna, the movie stars Mads Mikkelsen and Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, although Smáradóttir’s character is unconscious or asleep through about 99 percent of her scenes. Mikkelsen’s performance is what holds the entire film together. Since he is really the only character that acts or talks, he has to be able to push the plot along and ensure the audience is invested in his story.

Arctic drops viewers right into the action. We see Overgård (Mikkelsen) stranded in the Arctic. We don’t know how long he has been there, and the film doesn’t give us a backstory or flashbacks. It’s truly as if we are experiencing what he is experiencing, and we aren’t given any more insight than that. He seems to have been stranded for a while. His cargo plane has crashed, and he uses a watch each day to set alarms for his daily routine which includes, fishing and sending a call for help on a large crank radio.

A scene early on in the film introduces us to a polar bear who has found Overgård’s stash of fish. It’s clear that danger is present in multiple ways in this unforgiving environment, but Mikkelsen’s character clearly has more survival skills than most people, as he seems up to the challenge.

One aspect of this film that will stand out is the setting and cinematography. Arctic is quiet and bleak. The landscapes are stark and filmed on location in Iceland. In that sense, Arctic does remind one very much of The Revenant, even though the locations in that film were quite different. The scenery does make the audience feel chilled and desolate, and the filming techniques are definitely used effectively. The setting feels realistic, sometimes too realistic, in ways that will make your blood pressure increase.

During Overgård’s daily routine of using the radio to alert of his presence, a helicopter notices him and comes to rescue him, but a cross-draft causes the helicopter to crash, leaving behind one dead pilot and another, played by Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, injured and unconscious. Overgård rescues the unnamed woman from the wreckage, and this is when the movie really begins.

There is one striking scene when he takes her back to his camp and gently and respectfully treats her wound and also hugs her for a moment, clearly starved for the presence of another human after being alone in this hellscape for so long. Mikkelsen brings a very fatherly like presence that is comforting to watch. Clearly, Overgård feels guilt for causing the death of the pilot, and he is determined to not let this young woman die, too. He decides to journey across the tundra, with the young woman unconscious in a sled behind him, to try and get them out and save her life.

The rest of the movie shows Overgard’s grueling trek to reach a seasonal outpost and be rescued. The journey will keep you biting your nails and sometimes having to look away as things are quite intense. You do feel like you are in the thick of it with this character, and there are definitely some surprises and plot twists to be had, including another scene with a polar bear, which is quite intense.

The film explores some central themes that make you question what you would do in such a situation. Would you save yourself, or do everything you could to save someone else who will die without help? There were definitely scenes that you won’t see coming, and the ending will take you by surprise. But, I won’t spoil it here.

Overall, Arctic is a movie that reminds you of some of its predecessors in the survival genre, while still having some new tricks up its sleeve. The movie succeeds because of the acting skills of Mads Mikkelsen and the intensity of the emotions he brings despite the film having little dialogue and so few characters.

Arctic is not the most cutting-edge movie you will see this year, nor is it the most inventive. Still, it’s definitely worth the watch if you’re a fan of the genre or Mads Mikkelsen.