Exploration and expeditions are romanticized in film. Often they’re adapted to be only slightly related to a story from the past and tend to focus on the adventure and excitement of exploring a place new to those embarking on the journey. These can be thrilling endeavors that put the characters close to disaster before pulling them back. That said, Against the Ice adapts the autobiographical book by Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen Two Against the Ice. The film is directed by Peter Flinth, written by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau & Joe Derrick, and stars Coster-Waldau, Joe Cole, Nick Jameson, Charles Dance, and Lin Gallagher.
Against the Ice retells the story of Denmark’s 1909 Arctic Expedition led by Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). The expedition’s goal was to disprove the United States’ claim to Northeast Greenland. This claim was based on the assumption that Greenland was broken up into two different pieces of land, with one belonging to United States and the other to Denmark. Leaving his crew behind with the ship, Mikkelsen embarks on a journey across the ice with his inexperienced crew member, Iver Iversen (Joe Cole). Taking two sleds, the duo and their dogs begin their journey well enough. Captain Ejnar is cold and mission-driven and Iver is just looking to bond. While the two men succeed in finding the proof that Greenland is one island, returning to the ship takes longer and is much harder than expected. They battle extreme hunger, fatigue, a polar bear attack, and losing their dogs, pushing themselves with the one hope that The Alabama, their ship, is waiting to take them home.
However, this is only the first act of the film. Against the Ice only ramps up in tension and fear when they finally arrive to find their ship crushed in the ice and the camp abandoned. Hoping to be rescued, they now must fight to stay alive. As the days grow longer, their mental hold on reality starts to fade, breeding mistrust and paranoia. Starved and losing hope, Ejnar and Iver aren’t just close to disaster, they fall into it, time and time again.
Against The Ice is thrilling and heartbreaking in equal measure. It showcases the power of resiliency and grit while managing to balance it against the vulnerability and strife that comes with trying to survive. For that, the film is a hard watch. It’s terrifying to see Ejnar and Iver pushed past their breaking points and repeatedly hurts to watch. When the dogs lose their lives throughout the first act, it showcases the hopelessness of the journey. It cuts you down until all that is left are the two of them. While this is a film that does wind up telling a story of love and friendship as much as a story of survival, it never loses the danger.
Against the Ice is in sharp contrast to 2019’s Togo, which took the time to build up hope after every pitfall and focused on showcasing the action of the ice. This movie doesn’t pull the audience back up and like the leads, until the very end, you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the next shattering event to happen. There isn’t safety in this film—it’s cold and bitter and captures the awe-inspiring danger and beauty of the arctic. While there are big action moments in the film, they’re not what’s important to the story. Each one of the moments serves to propel the emotion of the film.
The fact that Against the Ice is a true story is hard to believe. Not because there is anything absurd, but because it’s hard to understand how much a person can endure. And none of this would be possible without stunning and emotional performances from Coster-Waldau and Cole. The two are tied together through empathy and pulled together in strife. Acting against each other or alone on the ice whistling into the wind, both actors bring truth and fear to their performances that work extremely well, transforming the film from just a survival story into one about companionship and trust.
Against the Ice is a difficult watch. It made me extremely uncomfortable at parts and it doesn’t shy away from showing how grim things were for Ejnar and Iver, including showing multiple of their canine companions dying on-screen. That said, this is a testament to how the film is able to make the artic into a character all its own—an all-consuming creature taking small parts of the men away with it over time. The intensity of the film is matched with its beauty. With large sweeping shots of the ice and landscapes that inspire wonder, Against the Ice is a film that never loses focus on its environment or its leads, balanced and thoughtful, it succeeds in ways I didn’t expect.
Against the Ice is available exclusively on Netflix March 2, 2022.
Against the Ice
- Rating - 9.5/109.5/10
Against the Ice is a difficult watch. It made me extremely uncomfortable at parts and it doesn’t shy away from showing how grim things were for Ejnar and Iver, including showing multiple of their canine companions dying on-screen. That said, this is a testament to how the film is able to make the artic into a character all its own—an all-consuming creature taking small parts of the men away with it over time. The intensity of the film is matched with its beauty.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.