War Sailor (2023) Netflix Mini-Series: The Norwegian war drama “War Sailor” or “Krigsseileren” depicts the relentless suffering of World War II heroes who fought valiantly without picking up a weapon. With his detailed and impactful direction, writer-director Gunnar Vikene depicts the harrowing story of lives lost by gunfire or trauma. “War Sailor” focuses on the non-military heroes, who served the warring sides (Allies mostly), and their families. It is a tragic exploration of the many effects of war. The relentless tragedies experienced during the war, as well those long-lasting aftereffects.
War Sailor (2023) Netflix Mini-Series Recap
Suffering at the Start of the War
To make ends meet, best friends Alfred (Kristoffer Joner) and Sigbjorn (Pal Sverre Hagen) accept jobs with a shipping company. Their jobs take them to a ship that is departing from Bergen to reach New York. Alfred is married and has three children. Sigbjorn is unmarried, but quite close to Alfred’s family. Alfred’s wife, Cecilia (Ine Marie Wilmann), daughter Maggie (Henrikke Lund Olsen), and son William (Armand Hannestad) are all apprehensive about the trip as every day new information about Hitler’s uprising is coming. Toddler Olav is the only one who is immune from such apprehension.
As expected, the moment Alfred and Sigbjorn embark on the journey, Germany invades Norway. Norway’s allegiance to the Allied troops renders all Norwegian merchant ships auxiliary to the Allied cause. Thus, the Norwegian sailors become soldiers, even without any military training. Alfred immediately rescues a young boy whose ship was destroyed by German forces. The boy, Aksel (Leon Tobias Slettbakk), becomes attached to Alfred.
Suffering during the War
A couple of years pass as Alfred, Sigbjorn, and some of their friends traverse through the war, even though many of their colleagues fell one after another. When an opportunity arrives, Alfred and Sigbjorn arrange for Aksel to be exempted from the next trip, with a fake disease. But Aksel does not go through it as he wants to remain with Alfred.
The inevitable happens as their ship gets torpedoed by the German submarine, killing most of the people aboard. Alfred, Sigbjorn, and another crew member survive, latching on to a raft-like piece of the ship. They find Aksel shouting for help. But when they pull Aksel to the raft, they find him amputated and heavily losing blood. A German ship stops but does not pick them up. Instead, they provide some morphine for the pain. Figuring Aksel might not survive, Alfred and Sigbjorn kill him through morphine overdose as a form of mercy.
In Bergen, Alfred’s family is living every day in fear of bombing. An Allied attempt to bomb German U-boats in Bergen fails miserably and the bomb drops at the local school, killing many children. To the enormous relief of Cecilia, her children survive the attack. But the following morning she receives the news of her husband’s death. Since, the ship was sunk by the submarine, Alfred and Sigbjorn are presumed dead.
Suffering long after the War
But Alfred and Sigbjorn survive and they start to recuperate in Canada. However, Alfred soon receives the shocking news. It is the news of the bombing of their locality. As a result, Cecilia, Maggie, Williams, and Olav are presumed dead. The devastated Alfred leaves a note to Sigbjorn and leaves to be never seen again.
More years pass as Sigbjorn returns to find Cecilia and all the children alive. He tells them that both he and Alfred survived the attack and they did not die as it was presumed. He also informs that Alfred is under the impression that Cecilia and everyone died. But, as mentioned by Cecilia, they survived because they left the locality a couple of hours before the bombing.
Sigbjorn informs Cecilia that his tireless search for Alfred has been fruitless. Cecilia asks him to stay with her and the children. As time dictates, Cecilia and Sigbjorn grow intimate; and Sigbjorn starts to fill the void left by Alfred. That is when Sigbjorn receives the news that Alfred is alive and in Singapore.
War Sailor (2023) Netflix Mini-Series Review
Gunnar Vikene’s direction is precise. It is hard-hitting without being melodramatic. The raw, visceral face of war, along with the apathy it brings, is beautifully captured in this three hours long epic story. Shot brilliantly by Sturla Brandth Grovlen (“Another Round,” “Rams”), “War Sailor” navigates smoothly between the two arcs of ‘Frontier’ and ‘Home.’ The frontier arc has Alfred and Sigbjorn trying their best in the War, to stay alive and return home. The home arc features Cecilia and her children living through daily air raids and bombings. Tragedy never takes a break in any of the arcs. It often happens one after another, which is anticipated as war is unrelenting.
Although intended as a film, the Norwegian drama has arrived on Netflix as a mini-series. With thirty-odd minutes worth of extra scenes, the film is now a mini-series of three episodes of one hour each. “War Sailor” was the official Norwegian entry for the 95th Academy Awards. It did not garner the same amount of hype as the other Netflix anti-war film, “All Quiet at the Western Front” did last year. However, there is no doubt that it deserves an equal amount of accolades as the German film received.
War Sailor (2023) Netflix Mini-Series Ending Explained & Theme Analyzed: Life After War?
“War Sailor” does not only concentrate on the lives lost during the war, but also the lives lost long after the war is finished. Sigbjorn finds Alfred and brings him back to his family. But Sigbjorn does not return, as his feelings for Cecilia and the children would seem in denial of Alfred’s existence. But Alfred’s return does not bring the same joy that both parties hoped for.
It seems Alfred’s existence now tears apart the happy family, because he did not return as the Alfred who had left in 1939. He has returned as an empty shell, with nothing but the horrors of his experience.
Why Did Alfred and Sigbjorn Choose to End Aksel’s Life?
One of the most tragic moments of the film/series is when young Aksel had to die, and moreover at the hands of Alfred. It was the moment that would shape Alfred’s empty future. Even when he grows 70 years old, we can see whenever he is alone, he is living or trapped in that moment. Alfred, and Sigbjorn, euthanized Aksel. Stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with no help nearby, Aksel, with his loss of leg and loss of blood, was as good as dead. Gangrene seemed inevitable. As a mercy, Alfred and Sigbjorn put him to sleep via morphine.
What Did Alfred Mean When He Said That He Is ‘Living’?
Cecilia, and the children, had to make peace with Alfred’s supposed death. Cecilia needed to, for the sake of her children. They, at the very least, had each other to grieve. When Sigbjorn returned, they found new joy. Sigbjorn also had the purpose to help his friend’s family, because he could not bring Alfred back.
It was Alfred, who had nothing. When he left under the assumption of his family’s death, he lost every sense of being. Drugs in the alleys of Singapore seemed to be the only path for him. The years of torment had already killed him when Sigbjorn brought him back to Cecilia. Now, Alfred is a shell of memories of horror, and his existence is a constant reminder of the same for the family.
Sigbjorn, after leaving Cecilia and the children, also could never recover from the loss of his new ‘family.’ As did Cecilia. So, when Alfred proclaims himself as ‘living,’ it is a cry for help. To feel alive, because he is not feeling that. Neither would he feel that ever, as it seems, when his forlorn looks evade the eyes of the seventy years old Sigbjorn.