Review by Dan Skip Allen
Journeys of self-discovery are a common motif in film. Sometimes they are comedic road trips in a car, like National Lampoon's Vacation, or they may be dramatic boat journeys a la Apocalypse Now. Godland has a journey with a different, more spiritual vibe, making it feel much more like a film like Silence by director Martin Scorsese.
The film takes place in the early 19th century, following a Danish priest, Lukas (Elliott Crosset Hove), tasked with building a church in a northern part of Iceland. However, the further he and his company travel, the more he loses his sense of who he is, his mission, and his duty as a priest. It's a very arduous journey that takes its toll on everyone involved. Also, he doesn't get along with his tour guide Ragnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), which proves to be a major problem for him on the journey.
The film has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 which cuts off the sides of the movie but doesn't take anything away from the cinematography at all. Every landscape that the company of men travels on in the film is captured perfectly. The beauty of this country is second to none, from the beaches to the mountains, from fiery volcanoes to the green rolling hills. The colors jump off the screen, and that is part of what makes this movie so interesting. The contrast in landscapes and the weather go against each other at points in the film, as the frigid and unforgiving weather clashes with the natural beauty of the locations.
The main journey of the movie is that of the priest. He takes photos everywhere he goes and of everyone he encounters. A tragedy happens halfway through the film, which adversely affects him for the rest of the journey. When the company of men finally gets to where they're going, the man there asks why they travel by boat, and the priest says he wanted to experience the country to its fullest by riding a horse across it. The whole journey was not a pleasant one for him, and it messed with his mind. Once he got to where they were building the church, he wasn't welcomed much either.
This story was a hard one to follow because of the subtitles. The characters were speaking both Danish and Icelandic, and it was hard to keep up with the story. The confusion kept getting worse because the character motivations were underwritten. Even the one man's daughter started to fall in love with him, and the man said not to get involved with the priest. The way it is presented is confusingly shallow. Like Silence, Godland has a character that wants to share his religion with a new group of people. These people are much more susceptible to wanting to embrace the new faith the priest is trying to share with them.
Godland is a film that asks the viewer to answer a lot of questions on their own. It tries to give people watching all the pieces but doesn't put them together for the viewer. That's the hardest part to take away from this movie. I wanted to like it and the main character, but I ended up more confused about the different languages spoken and the subtitles. The visuals were stunning, and the aspect ratio didn't bother me. I feel there are other films of this ilk, like Silence, that are much more accessible to the viewer. Unfortunately, this movie didn't work for me as well as I hoped it would.
Godland is now playing in theaters.