A man stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown.
We don’t even see Overgård’s small plane crash into the icy arctic wilderness. If anyone was with him they’re dead now (I’m assuming he didn’t eat them).
In fact we get no backstory at all. We know nothing about him, apart from what we witness.
It makes Arctic stand out, that Overgård is doubly isolated; physically so, but also from his past. There are no shortcuts for us to work out what kind of a man he is; whether his actions come from a need to make amends, or if he’s led a previously blameless existence. He’s a blank slate for us (and for some probably a mirror).
This is a riveting film, partly because it is also stark and spare; the only fluff is the padding inside his dirty red ski jacket and his eventual companion’s sleeping bag. But such austerity needs an exceptional performance to carry it.
Trudge forward Mads Mikkelsen, whose increasingly weatherbeaten face conveys every all-too-believable response to his life or death dilemmas. Survival stories are pointless if you aren’t invested in the protagonist, but we can’t help root for Overgård as Mikkelsen takes him from enigma to, emotionally if not practically, a sort of everyman. Even Overgård’s heroism is of the stoical kind, though he’s certainly built for this landscape.
He’s undoubtedly way more skilled in this environment than most of us, and he understands how to maximise his chances. It’s always daylight there (something which makes his struggle even more relentless and inescapable), but he sets alarms to stay on track, and ticks off the days.
Home is the small cargo plane; he fishes to survive, eating it raw. Trips outside into the inhospitable terrain are to work out potential escape routes, wind his radio, and clear lines of snow away so only the black rock below is visible. I wasn’t sure what he was doing until overhead shots revealed it as a giant (and perfectly formed!) SOS in black against the white snow.
A potential rescue by helicopter turns into disaster when it crashes nearby; the pilot is killed and the young woman with him (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) is badly injured. Overgård staples her wound and takes her back to the plane. She comes inadvertently bearing gifts, including a lighter, some food, and even a sled; and maybe a little bit of luck as one of his fishing lines has caught a giant sea trout. They have fish and noodles cooked in the plane that night, and it looks like the most delicious meal ever.
Her injuries and his dwindling supplies mean leaving the downed plane and trying to reach safety is their only option. Packing her up in the sleeping bag, he straps her to the sled and starts walking, dragging it behind him.
Director and co-writer Joe Penna certainly puts Overgård through it, and there are times, as he determinedly trudges onwards, dragging his companion, that it feels as if we’re complicit in his suffering. What more can go wrong, I wondered, before something else went wrong. But it all feels very real, and at 98 minutes, resolution comes briskly for us if not for him (though as he tries to pull the sled again and again up a rocky cliff it feels agonisingly slow).
The snowstorms, sub-zero temperatures, and empty, inhospitable expanse are lethal but neutral. More aggressive is a polar bear; its snarling head squeezed through the entrance to a small cave in which the pair are sheltering is terrifying.
It’s an interesting bond, the one between Overgård and the young woman, based certainly on fellow feeling, though also partly on guilt and debt. Even though she’s mostly unconscious, there’s an interdependence there. The helicopter crashed because it came to rescue Overgård; the pilot is dead and she is dangerously ill. She’s given him a sled, fire, and food. He aims to save her, but as that connection strengthens, his few words move from practicalities to soothing reassurance.
The spaces are vast and flat, surrounded by jutting hills. The wasteland may be pure white interspersed with black jagged boulders, but above it’s surprisingly colourful: subtle tones of peach, grey, white and pale blue divide land and sky. Distant shots show just the red jacket and olive green sleeping bag against the white snow, moving slowly.
While usually I’d rather you watched a movie reflected in the back of a spoon than not watch one at all, Arctic deserves a big screen: for its vast emptiness, the desolation, the little figure struggling footstep by footstep towards safety while pulling a sick woman behind him.
Even Overgård’s moral dilemmas, his balancing of logic and humanity – abandon her for good, push on with her even if it makes it more likely neither will survive – need a space big enough for their implications.
Overgård the man, though, is stripped back emotionally to his bare bones. Masculine without ever being toxically so, Overgård is big and brawny, capable, and used to the cold. But there’s no one else to see or hear what he does, and no one to impress. This is the real Overgård. Resolve, fear, heartbreak, astonishment, near-hysteria and resignation flit across his exhausted face at different times.
I liked Arctic‘s layered approach to what survival means, whether taking an “every man for himself” approach can ever be worth it. Though this gritty story also works simply as a will they/won’t they make it movie, too.
It’s a fight against the odds but it always feels believable. Overgård’s stoicism, physical strength, emotional resilience and knowledge may not be a common combination but it’s not inexplicable. He’s a hero, not a superhero.
vod / dvd / blu-ray from amazon uk
Watch the Arctic trailer (and scroll down for the ending):
My assumption is that they are rescued at the end – they seem to give up then we see a helicopter. Do read the comments below though, it’s really fascinating seeing how many of us see the ending differently, and reading people’s reasons why. Anyway I hope you all enjoyed the film!
Cora p says
Were they rescued or they died without seeing the helicopter.
My assumption is rescued
Alicia Acosta says
Just finished watching Arctic and I agree with Sarah…except I choose the word “presumption” instead of assumption because I’m a member of the glass half-full club.
Unexpectedly I found tears welling up in my eyes in the climax when Overgard lights the torch, then lights his snow parka to wave at the rescue team to show them where he and the woman are. It’s the emotion on his face (and the soundtrack). Magnificently performed!
This film should be seen on a big screen for real impact.
Yes I wish I’d seen it at the cinema. It was at London Film Festival last October but I missed the press screening. Was kicking myself afterwards.
Christine T says
Agree with you wholeheartedly.
Matt M says
I just have to ask, what in the world was wrong with the woman? It seems to me that the helicopter crashed, she got a cut on her stomach somehow and was consussed? There didn’t seem to be any other injuries, like a broken back or any serious injuries. So why could she not speak or be conscious at all, like not even to the point of eating? But somehow she could squeeze his hand? There were many minor plot problems in this film but this one is by far the worst. The only plausible reason I can think of for her symptoms is perhaps a serious illness. There were no indications of this (like throwing up or shivers) and if she had it, it couldn’t have came from the crash, obviously, so it could have came from food? I just don’t know, this doesn’t make much sense to me. Does anyone have an answer to her horrible mental conditions and lack of will to live?
Maybe a concussion? Neuro damage is hard to decipher in the Arctic.
she was coughing up blood which means she was internally bleeding
Evelyn Gorfram says
Late to the party, but in case you’re still reading: the cut on the woman’s stomach looked to me like a deep wound extending through the peritoneal wall into her abdomen. Deep belly wounds like this are very serious because any infection is already right there inside the peritoneal cavity. That’s a large area for infection to spread in, & a critical one for keeping the human body functioning. The woman’s high fever & extreme weakness would make sense if she’s got an infection raging right next to all her internal organs.
Matt i was thinking zact same thing about the woman.she just seemed to have a cut.i do believe they lived in the end.i was kinda pissed that through it all it didnt zactly show if they lived or died
I was thinking the same thing. Only thing I can think of is loss of blood. But she was out of it the whole film lol
Internal bleeding? Hense the blood coming from her mouth.
Because we see her so sick and unresponsive at times (outside of the hand-squeezing times) there appears to be deeper trauma , mixed with the fact she had blood coming out of her mouth which tells you she had internal bleeding! I could not hold back crying hard, as I felt his frustration and after ALL he did over and over and over again to push through against all odds…and still in his excruciating pain and weariness and exhaustion and extreme discomfort of freezing (have YOU ever felt frostbite?) yet he still was in survival mode and rescue mode. The ending: it looked as though he finally surrendered to death. But I will choose to believe that he just passed out and then was rescued and revived. I believe in God and His mercy and anyone who sacrifices that much and at the same time dies for another human being is seen by God. I believe he lived
Me too. I think they both survived. They better had, after all my suffering watching their suffering. I am thoroughly exhausted. Watched it late at night now I am wide awake and it’s 3.30 am. 5 stars.
She had a fever and the cut was so infected at the end. i’m assuming she ended up with sepsis and this would be what would kill her in the end. Also, her partner died so she was probably in shock. I think they both survived but I know what you mean I watched it at 12:30am and now can’t sleep because I’m thinking about the movie. 5 stars. Love Mads
They never see the helicopter, but the helicopter sees them.
I agree!! They should had let us know whether they lived or died!! I guess they leave it us to guess whether they survived or not!!
I think they died. Showing the harsh reality of the conditions and ones valiant effort to survive. I think they wanted us to feel his exhaustion in the end and that they were so close.
It’s anyones guess lol. I guess it’s all in what YOU want to have happen. I’m a cup half full kind of person.
Alicia Acosta says
Two alternative summations about the ending:
Either he was near death at the point when the helicopter does approach them and he just lay down and gave up.
The helicopter, now with a better approach pattern, returned in minutes after leaving them, and Overgard and the woman were rescued and survived.
I’m reminded of other magnificent movies with similar ambiguous endings: The Lighthouse of the Orcas (Netflix), and Life of Pi.
It’s really interesting seeing people’s different responses to this – I assumed he was definitely rescued (but it would have played on my mind for ages if I let myself think they were missed…)
My husband and I just watched this on TV, and we both vehemently disagree about the ending. I took it as he lay down and died, just too overcome from his wound, and the exertion, and the failure of rescue. Hubby thinks he just was unconscious or “resting”. It is very very much up to the viewer, or to have the filmmaker tell us what was intended, I guess.
It’s really fascinating isn’t it, how the same scene can play out so differently – I was convinced they both survived but lots of people see it as you have, with him dying of exhaustion. (Great film though, with either ending.)
So, I just watched the movie.
He collapses at the end near-death for dramatic effect and her condition mysteriously complicates any definitive conclusion – definitely alive.
I enjoyed this movie. I believe they survived, for two reasons.
First, there were a few turns of event which suggested that the writers intended the hand of Fate to be playing a part: (1) when the crashed helicopter’s panel kept flapping and it was drawing O’s attention to the sledge; (2) when O’s biggest-ever fish appears after he takes the woman back to the plane: (3) when O walked away from the seemingly-dead woman and ignored the symbolic little flower of life – and promptly fell down a hole which led him back to her. It might fit with that mysticism that in the moment he finally reconciled himself to his fate, the rescue helicopter appeared.
More scientifically, O had only been lying down for a few seconds when the helicopter came. There was no storm and conditions seemed reasonably good. It’s extremey unlikely that, after everything they had been through, they would both have died during the couple of seconds after he last spoke.
I would have preferred a few more seconds of ending rather than this very abrupt one. But still enjoyed the movie.
agree 100% with these observations.
The only question mark for me would be – he no longer had jacket or gloves on so hyperthermia would set in very quickly indeed. Potentially he did pass out – and given he had a bleeding wound and his blood pressure would therefore be very low – chances are after an exertion such as shoving the woman up to the top to see the helicopter – his heart and body gave in to death.
That said – it was only a minute that passed (if the timing was real rather that suggestive) – before the helicopter found a safe approach to circle down, so if he had passed out or even had heart failure – they could resuss him. She was snuggled in a sleeping bag until the last few minutes so in theory should have also survived.
While I like the tension I am not a fan of open ended movies. I like to know what happened or what’s the point of attaching to characters and sharing their experience if you don’t know the outcome in the end … it doesn’t leave you ‘hanging’ it just leaves you feeling a ‘WTF’ kinda’ lacking.
Loved the sparseness and the sheer hopelessness – that stare into nothingness when our heart mind and soul are flatlining for whatever reason. And I adore his inner will to keep going – despite at times resenting the woman (i.e. coughing in the cave and alerting bear / coughing in moments that he himself was at breaking point (you see him eye to the side and his face twitching impatiently when he hears that infernal cough despite him doing his best) yet despite what I spied as his aggravation – deep aggravation – (the kind you get when you’re sick of your marriage lol) he digs even deeper to a place of duty or humanity and finds the patience to tolerate and still look after her (when you try harder at the marriage rather than divorce lolol ).
There seemed to be suggestions of Karma in this movie like you said – the door flapping , the biggest fish, the flower , the fall, the ‘reciprocated hello’ at last just when he needed forgiveness for leaving her and also comfort and company…. and at the end when he states rather like a projection: ‘its ok, you are not alone’ repeating this a few times to comfort himself as well as her. That helping others is also helping yourself, that harming others is also harming yourself kinda Karma.
Christine T says
I really like your thinking & take on the film, helps me see it in a different light too!
But the helicopter was out of focus. My father thought it was a dream. And he kept saying “It’s ok. You’re not alone” meaning perhaps that dying is ok as long as you are not alone?
Jerry L Smith says
They both survived….the director and cameraman were there also to help them. And to make everyone realize…it was all recorded and really didn’t happen.
So everyone is ok and back home safely.
Thanks. You have stopped me worrying now and I can get off
my couch and get some sleep. Didn’t seem nice to get up, brush my teeth, check my dog and slink up to bed (it’s now 3.54 am) and leave them both lying there freezing and maybe about to leave this earth. Excellent movie.
Dee Leigh says
No, he sighed his last.
Remember the entire film is from his perspective. I believe he is dying, we saw and heard him breathe his last. Perhaps in the few seconds of consciousness left he dreams he hears a helicopter and it is only in his mind that it appears, a final sound and vision echoing his last words, “It’s okay, you’re not alone,” before he perishes—or its descent is the last thing he actually hears before perishing (I’ve heard hearing is the last sense to go); either way it’s all over for him suddenly, because he’s gone. But if it is the latter, she will still be saved…”She’s here!”
So many recent movies have ambiguous endings. After a while this gets tiresome and seems to be in style right now. The writers are playing a pseudo intellectual game with the audience, Pseudo because it is now so common to leave the audience guessing that the concept is not original, but commonplace instead. I find these endings unkind after investing so much empathy for the characters only to be let down and dissatisfied over and over again.
Also in style is that the first thing we see is a black screen with either sound effects or a little dialogue. This opening of a film often ensures that the meaning of the final scene is your choice.
Some recent movies that adhere to the ambiguous ending style are First Cow, First Reformed and Arctic to name a few.
the whole movie was about him getting to the end and about hope so why would they suddenly lose the message of the movie in the last 5 minutes.also they gave up at the end and thought we can’t go any longer and closed their eyes but then the helicopter came so they survived . The only reason he didn’t show the scene at the end was because the movie would’ve dragged on for another hour about going to the hospital being rescued seeing family
so i know for a fact they survived
I find it very hard to believe that the rescue crew, that was clearly searching for survivors missed the flare and his burning jacket with weather being clear and visible. The rescue crew also abruptly and quickly returned to the chopper as if they had seen them. I didn’t think the helicopter was some dying vision, or last dying wish. The helicopter arrived within a few seconds of him speaking with her which leads be to think, while exhausted and probably little to
No strength left to lift his head or respond that they still got to him in time as for her not so sure, that cut was very badly infected.
I hate ambiguous endings, not the best for my type A personality.
Most of all no one is talking about how she is going to the washroom? Or him for that matter….
that all depends….
Evelyn Gorfram says
It’s a common tv-&-movie convention that calls of nature are answered offscreen, unless they’re part of a story point. Kind of like how women are often seen having sex with their bras on; which – yeah, right. Their bras are one of the first things most women remove after getting home, but they keep them on during sex. :]
I’m more concerned with how O navigates his way through white-out conditions without ever using a compass: we don’t even know if he *has* one. I have to figure he does his compass readings offscreen, presumably right after he’s done relieving himself.
She didn’t need to. 3 sips of water and a few mouthfuls of fish wouldn’t necessitate urgent trips to the bathroom. Her body was only just ticking over, I didn’t need to see either of them answering the call of nature so I am glad those details were not shown.
Jamie Moore says
The last scene is one of rising hope, not plunging despair. I could feel it in the air: survival.
Brilliant synchronicities throughout the movie: the big fish and the unlikely Arctic wildflowers.
He didn’t need a paper map, he was being led by the universe.
I believe they died, the helicopter didn’t see him or the flare. Then he burned his coat with the flare so he can be seen. Helicopter went in a different direction with out seeing the smoke. . I don’t understand why they didn’t hear his screams?
i don’t understand how you didn’t see the helicopter land again at the very end…
My exact same thoughts! It was so close to them. They were definitely rescued! Made me cry when he kept saying you’re not alone then the helicopter appeared. Great movie.
I believe they died, they helicopter left and went away from them, no reason not to come directly if they saw them. The helicopter at the end signified salvation in the form they needed upon death, a metaphor of an angel.
I saw the movie last night and I tried too have hope for the both of them.
I want to believe that at the end they were both rescued but to tell you the truth she was so very pale like all the blood drained out her body and she was septic from her infection and he ran out of strength and just gave up and died. So two dead bodies were rescued with ID’s
Tony M says
I think by this point there was nothing left to do but close one’s eyes, as they are sick and exhausted, which they do. the chopper pilots may well see a better place to land which is closer to the victims. a friend of mine who told me I should see it, told me his wife says they perished. it never even occurred to me, especially since them both being dead at the end (which I can only assume is minutes later) is very unlikely. I’m no film analyst(and some who think they are, often aren’t up to the task),but the abruptness of the ending is somehow jolting. we see the chopper for about one second.this, makes me wonder ,if it’s to help us understand something.an abrupt ending to a film usually has a cinematic point. another second, and we have a conventional ending.here,there’s a reason the narrative simply just ends.I don’t know what it is. one hell of a film, tho.
Evelyn Gorfram says
I came here to complain about polar bears.
How does anyone as apparently arctic-savvy as Overgard pull a dumb stunt like storing his frozen fish in a plastic tub – especially when he had any number of reasonably bear-proof cargo cases to store all his non-food items in? Writer Joe Penna grew up in Brazil, & so might not know that bears + human-generated food sources = often deadly for humans &/or bears. But the fish-stealing bear never comes around & tried to pry open the downed plane to get at the tasty critters inside, so maybe the bear didn’t get the memo either.
Also, the two trek for miles in the open; but are unbothered by bears while sleeping in a snow cave & in the Stokes-windbreak-&-double-sleeping-bag shelter. It’s only when they’re in the best place in the movie – other than the plane cabin – for defending oneself against bear attack that a bear (finally gets the memo and) attacks.
The fish-stealing incident serves the story point of letting us know that bears are around & hungry & dangerous. It’s one more reason that Overgard can’t just go on living in the plane indefinitely; & it sets us up for the bear attack at the cave. And the bear attack is important for both heightening the sense of desperation & as the reason that Overgard has only one flare left in the helicopter scene (but then again, see also: Chekov’s gun).
Maybe polar bears in the part of the Arctic where rescue missions are flown by Japanese-speaking Thai citizens who don’t speak the official language used in international aviation – i.e., English* – are different from the Alaskan & Canadian polar bears I’m more familiar with.
(*Although I actually like this point. The sheer surrealism of it goes beyond mere logical inconsistency to underscore how excruciatingly difficult *every little thing* is in this inhuman environment.)
I tend to think that they died; signified by the holding of the hand and “your not alone”. Kind of like, it’s over, sort of thing. The helicopter returning could be interpreted as a time lapsed way to indicate that they were, at least, discovered but too late. I kept expecting the helicopter to show up and begin hovering overhead while the movie ends but to my horror it didn’t and he gives up, breaking my heart. The ending first left me kind of miffed. Reeling me in only to dash my hopes but isn’t that what a good movie is supposed to do? Jerk you around emotionally and leave you thinking about it long afterwards.
Sarah Cartland says
Comments are staying open but I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has commented. It’s a lovely, fascinating and respectful thread with lots of different ideas as to what happened. It’s also really opened my eyes to endings where I think it’s an open and shut case but really it’s ambiguous to other people in the audience. Thanks again, folks.
Prefer nit to guess. I wish the movie ended with an ending ugh.
If the writers wanted to imply that whether they lived or died does not matter I think they failed. The manner of his lying down is not much like how he would have died, and there was no change in the woman; so it implies that thought they were rescued he was prepared to give up and die. As a metaphor for how life is, it’s pretty good. the helicopter seeming to ignore them only to turn up at the end was a bit of a stretched movie cliche, but effective nonetheless.
This movie was great💯🙏🔥
Loved this film. Because O was Danish, it was presumably set in Greenland.
One thing I don’t understand: how would two Thai pilots (apparently as a married couple!) be flying rescue-helicopters in the Arctic? That part is a bit bizarre.
Rance A. Nethken, MSgt, USAF/ret. says
All I can add to Arctic and the many reviews is this. I know the experience of being in his dilemma! Being ex USAF and a flight engineer. aircrewmembers were required to attend variious “survival training” courses including jungle, desert, open ocean and lastly, arctic survival, if the aircraft we were flying landed in one of the environments listed. Arctic survival was the most difficult. Northern Alaska’s winters are severe and the training was designed to duplicate the reality of what it would have been like. We were given the bare nesessities; food, arctic wear as well as “instructors” to ensure our overall safety during the two week course. Night time temperatures were well below -55 degrees with a wind chill of -68 to -78 degrees. To say it was difficult is mild! It was horredous!! Some of the other crewmembers acquired mild frostbite while some experienced mild PTSD! What Overgard experienced and portrayed, in my opinion is utter reality!! Even Tom Hanks in Castaway had conditions that far outweighed the limited survival needs of Overgard; i.e., warm weather, plentiful fish, coconuts, etc. Water survival, on the other hand had dangers; sharks and dangerous sea creatures, etc. Desert and jungle was dangerous as well but Arctic survival was the most difficult to endure for two weeks. As I mentioned, there was a staff of instructors/medical aid to ensure our overall safety in the event some of the participants (aircrew) experienced serious problems. The other “classes” mentioned was also in a “controlled” environment as well! I must add that the instructors were close by in a protected trailer delivered by air to assist in emergencies and during “academic situations”, were there to help us to endure and understand what survival in a hostile environment can be like!! Artic was in my opinion a five star movie and performance of both actors was superb!! Anyone can add to my my review if they experienced similar experiences.
Sarah Cartland says
Oh my god! I find posts like yours absolutely fascinating, the realities versus what (some) movies show. Even beyond the physical problems, psychologically it must have been tough even with your “teachers” nearby. Thank you so much for posting!
I’m not a Glass Half Full person. The helicopter either did see the burning flare/jacket and circled to land into wind or saw them as the crew search patterned over them. they were both on the edge but still cranking out the amps. lighten up people. The glass was half empty…but there was still something left. They got what they deserved.
Adrian Kriss says
Very interesting and thought provoking movie.
We all face dilemmas in life, but hopefully never ones that give you such a distinct conflict between life and death. In my view, he had buried his own wife/child after his own plane crash. Thus the rocks built, after the death of the pilot, and his return to his own pile of rocks seen early on. With this guilt in mind, his own survival, he felt that he had to do all in his power to save the woman.
We all try and rationalise as to how we would survive in these extreme conditions, dependent upon our own skill sets as outlined by an earlier comment. We saw a decision made to commit to an alternative route which would take 3 days longer, providing no hic-ups. This is where I would have made a different decision. Her wound, to me, was one that needed urgent attention. I could move quicker without her, and would have left her at the impasse, with water, to get to the outpost, to bring help asap.
Either way, her chances of survival were very limited, and all rely on him.
Having said all that, the pilot never got back in time in the English patient either!
The worst ending ever
Okay!! So they survived is what l would like to believe!!
Well wouldn’t the helicopter woken them both?
What’s the directors story on this?
I’m a one way or the other kinda chap!
I like to think that they both survived fell in love got married and happily ever after.
I want the helicopter at the end to mean they survived but my instincts say once he surrendered, he was at peace and he died. Someone here called the helicopter a metaphor for an angel. That makes the most sense to me. The way everything happened so quickly and then fade to black (Sopranos anyone? Tony most definitely died).
I have just watched the film and really enjoyed it. I was disappointed with the ending, but interesting to read all the interpretations.
It did make me laugh that there was a casting director, he must have been a busy person.
Radio Randy says
They lived…it would’ve been silly to show the rescue chopper landing behind them, otherwise.
Besides, I’d already seen the last 5 minutes of the movie and had to go back to see the whole thing. Made me miserable just seeing what he was going through.
S A Gould says
I agree with Angus and Jamie Moore. They survived and were rescued at the end.
Because that’s the way I want it to end, and even if the director announces that “Nope, they died!’ that doesn’t stop me from using my imagination to alter the ending of a movie if I chose to.
Who is Overgård? Why is his ID card at the third site?(see 49′) Judging from the many marks on his own map, he’s been stranded a long time. Did he at some point in the past, trek there from his crash site, turn around and return after writing the site of his crash “1 alive valley due south”. He seems a little baffled to read that. He has already marked his new map with a horizontal line at this site. His battered, original map, his ID, the metal trunk and rope all seem from a distant, cruder (Soviet?) era.
Oh, and I think they live.