ARCTIC opens with a man digging up a path – a difficult task the man might have gone on for days as rocks had to be removed from the ground. As the camera pulls back, it is revealed that it is not a path that is being cleared by the man, but part of a huge message carved out of the ice and snow with the letters S.O.S. The man, Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen) has been stranded in the ARCTIC after his plane crashes and he is desperately waiting for a rescue.
The film goes on for a full 20 minutes with his survival – catching and eating fish; keeping warm; sleeping etc, before something else happens. A helicopter appears. When the helicopter that finds him crashes, the pilot is killed and the passenger, a young woman (María Thelma Smáradóttir) severely injured. Overgard 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.
The dialogue, when there is any is in English but there is much that is to be read between the lines or in this case, between the images. For one, what happens on screen will reveal what season of the year it is that Overgard had been stranded. He ice fishes but as the film progresses, the ice has become thicker and the fishing hole becomes frozen. There is also quite an amount of light during the day. One can come to the assumption that it is probably late summer and the weather is gradually getting colder. This explains why he decided to make the difficult trip on foot to find civilization instead of waiting if warmer weather is approaching.
The audience will also ponder the reason he has decided to take the injured young woman to safety instead of just ditching her. For one, she was in the helicopter that crashed trying to land and perhaps rescue him. So, he owes it to his conscience to save her.
Films like ARCTIC are usually based on true events but nothing of this sort is mentioned at the beginning of the film. One in a way wishes that the film is based on a true story in order to see what a human being in real life might have gone through. On the other hand, after watching the film, one might be relieved that no one had to go through what the protagonist in the film underwent. Actor Mikkelsen referred to the film as the most difficult shoot of his career.
There are films that are difficult (to put it mildly) to watch. Overgard, trekking through the ice and snow in blizzard conditions dragging a home-made stretcher carrying the injured woman creates quite the image. When Overgard falls through the ice and gets his legs jammed stuck between the rocks, he finds he has no alternative but force his legs free, demanding a lot of physical pain in the process. Screams help him forget the pain, but this is one scene that will have many an audience shut they eyes or turn away.
ARCTIC avoids the typical happy Hollywood ending and ends with an alternative appropriate ending (that will not be revealed in the review) that should satisfy audiences. ARCTIC is a difficult but rewarding watch that shows man’s conquest over the elements of cold and ice.