The drive to survive: Against the Ice

Film review

John Smistad
Olympia, Wash.

Synopsis: Two men struggle against all odds to survive after being abandoned while on an expedition in the savage remote reaches of Greenland.

You’re not getting Wi-Fi at Starbucks. The show on the tube isn’t in HD. You need an extra blankie ’cuz the heater’s crapped out.


Try being these two guys in Against the Ice, oh ye poor put-upon pouters. In 1909 and 1910, seasoned Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen (an excellent Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Iver Iversen (Joe Cole, also superb), a young mechanic, gutted out two brutal winters at the end of the earth in East Greenland. Together, these extraordinary men battled the barbaric elements, desperate hunger (resorting at one point to sharing dead dog liver), ravenous polar bears and, eventually, and not at all surprisingly, hallucinations and a slow descent into total insanity.

Why were the pair even there, you ask? It was all about national pride and territorialism. Great Britain wished to claim all of Greenland for itself. The United States maintained that there was a channel separating the land, and that the alleged area north of it was theirs.

Needless to say, this did not sit well with the crown. Mikkelsen led an intrepid crew commissioned to, A) locate an expedition of Danes who had been dispatched to, but never returned from, Greenland, and B) to find and furnish evidence that Greenland is indeed one contiguous land mass.

Did these substantial souls succeed? Well, you can look it up online, of course. Or you can watch this riveting account of the experience on Netflix.

I am partial to the latter. Nothing against Google, but scoping out Against the Ice makes for a much more compelling option.

And, oh yeah, may your spot always be “hot” at that fave java shop, friends.

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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John Smistad

John Smistad is a published author of short stories, poems, essays, and movie reviews. He lives and loves with his family and cat in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. He is the fiercely proud son of a native Norwegian dad. (He loves his mom, too.) You can follow him as on his blog at