Writing a synopsis of Arctic is a simple task: the film is about a man trying to survive in the icy, windy, almost alien world of the Arctic Circle after crashing his plane. Amazingly, director Joe Penna was originally considering an even more inhospitable environment to base the film in – Mars – but this idea was shelved when The Martian hit the screens. Sometimes a change in situation is for the best as this scenario works in the film’s favour. Not only is the snow a more believable place for the story to take place, it also offers more options for the directions it can go from a survival standpoint.
In the video-game world, the concept of navigating extremely tough conditions with wits and creativity is becoming increasingly popular. Of course, we have seen similar ideas in film for a while, The Revenant being one recent example of many. However, Arctic feels purer than some of its predecessors as survival is the only thing that matters.
Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) is certainly well-prepared for such a situation and looks like he has been engulfed in it for a longtime. Early into the film, he finishes kicking the letters ‘SOS’ out of the snow, big enough that it can be seen by air. Is this his first attempt? Or has he been doing this for weeks? There are no clear answers, leaving the viewer’s mind to roam free with questions.
What Penna makes clear though is that Overgård’s ability to avoid starving is nothing short of remarkable. A point amplified by the fact that he has landed in an area where snow, and only snow, can be seen in every direction.
A film such as this depends heavily on the lead actor’s performance more than anything else, and Mikkelsen rises to the challenge. Despite being in every scene, often with very little dialogue to work with, Mikkelsen makes his work seem effortless. He is excellent when it comes to using facial expressions and body language to tell portions of story.
Shot in Iceland, with its massive snowy plains and mountains convincing substituting for the Arctic Circle, the sense of danger is palpable. It is difficult to picture a harder place than the Arctic Circle to stay alive. Which is why Overgård’s plight is so compelling to watch. He is a reminder that the human spirit can be a powerful tool in times of crisis.