Criterion Prediction #225: The Flight of the Eagle, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Flight of the Eagle
Director: Jan Troell
Cast: Max Von Sydow
Synopsis: The Flight of the Eagle chronicles the journey of explorer S.A. Andrée and his two companions, Nils Strindberg and Knut Frænkel, from Svalbard, Norway over the North Pole. However, complications arise and the three are forced to survive in the arctic climate.
Critique: Troell is one of those directors who works your senses with a hypnotic spell that is made up of deliberate aesthetics and expansive scope. There’s a grounded quality to his work. Historical realism could describe film like The Emigrants and The New World and yet there’s an undercurrent of ethereal wooziness. The Flight of the Eagle is a fact-inspired narrative and there’s a sense of adventure. Like much of Troell’s work, the film has a relationship with nature and the elements, as well as our place amid the lofty expanse of the great outdoors. There’s a waft of Jack London that breezes through the narrative. The lingering air of dread we’d associate with Joseph Conrad gradually envelopes us once our explorers’ ill-fated expedition grows from perilous to dire. Troell presides over a classically mounted feature that casts a spell on you by utilizing controlled delirium. Von Sydow is once again calibrated to the same frequency as his director. His performance as Salamon August Andree indicates a driving force that never seems to accelerate. Salomon is so walled up (perhaps a commentary on period repression?) and interiorized, you can’t tell if he’s a deluded dreamer or if he’s fallen into a pit of vanity and self-obsessed hubris. Von Sydow is acting as if he’s got a fist in his chest and it’s mesmerizing how he attains a level of quiet complication, just like the director.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: The pattern is relatively self-explanatory. Once The Emigrants and The New World received an updated transfer, they received a spine number; the same for This is Your Life. Seeing as The Flight of the Eagle recently received a Region B Svensk Filmindustri disc and Criterion’s penchant for distributing their movies as well as the work of Troell, it seems like The Flight of the Eagle is a tailor-made title for The Criterion Collection.