Review: Godland – A snapshot of humanity

Directed by Hlynur Pálmason
Starring Elliott Crosset Hove, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Hilmar Guðjónsson


What may be the most gorgeous and stunning looking film of the year, Godland is a true production, even if its actual story is a touch lacking. Filmed in beautiful locations across the wet, snowy, and grassy Icelandic environments, this film has a very close relationship with the earth, sometimes treating its human and animal inhabitants as mere organic extensions of it.

In the late 1800s, a Danish clergyman, Lucas (Elliot Crosset Hove), is given the task of traversing to the east coast of Iceland to build a church, all the while taking the very first photos of this area and its people. For this arduous journey, he is accompanied by a translator (Hilmar Guðjónsson) and a guide, Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson). Lucas is committed to his work all the way through (especially his photography that bewilders the locals), though he confides in God that he cannot bear to be around most of them, feeling a sense of superiority for some selfish reason or the other – this feeling may be felt by Ragnar as well, which later causes friction and conflict among the two men.

It likely won’t be, but Godland should certainly be nominated for the Oscar for Best Cinematography. But it must be a little easy to make the film look this gorgeous when the characters are placed within such stunning areas and vistas of Iceland, swarming with vegetation, waterfalls, menacing clouds, and even more ominous hilly landscapes, making it reminiscent of the equally stunning Nordic-set film The Northman. If there were an Oscar for Best Location Scouting, this film should also deserve it.

The story itself does seem to be a little less impressive. It plays out quite simply, with little fuss or surprise, as it stops and starts as the characters experience their setbacks and advances with their journeys. The film works best when it’s evoking the best of European cinema. With some moments so languid as they take in the atmosphere, they feel like they’ve ripped from an Andrei Tarkovsky film.

The film has its comparisons to the immense likes of There Will Be Blood and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, where central characters are corrupted by egotism as they embark on lofty prospects, though this film doesn’t quite have the insight or excitement of either film. Honestly, Godland would lose a few points if it weren’t so good-looking. But the incredible environments it presents are as much a character (maybe even moreso) than the adventurous, yet doomed and pitiful humans that inhabit them.