Against The Ice Film Summary & Ending Explained: Was Naja Holm really a Fragment of Mikkelsen’s Imagination?

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Video Source – Netflix (Netflix YouTube Channel)

Based on a true story, Against the Ice on Netflix does not merely put the viewer through constant anticipation as a by-product of being a survival drama. It makes sure there exists some spark of surprise even at the end. After spending two years with a person, one would believe there’s nothing more to know about him. It’s not surprising that Iversen would have felt the same.

Still, in the ending scene of Against the Ice, Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen managed to surprise his friend along with the viewers too. Iversen, the curious guy he is, must surely have sought an explanation from Mikkelsen soon after, but since that was not part of the movie, we shall take up the task to explain it to you.  

Two Against the Ice

In 1909, Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen sets out on a journey to retrieve the lost findings of the crew members of the Denmark Expedition that aimed to map out the unexplored North-eastern part of Greenland. On-board mechanic Ivar Iversen volunteers to accompany Ejnar Mikkelsen. Not impressed by the young lad initially, who’s not quite well versed about living in minus forty degrees, Captain Mikkelsen decides to take Iversen to what’s mostly a journey to ice-cold hell. And they set out into the unchartered frozen wilderness against the ice. Iver Iversen, being a vocational mechanic, is far away from the realities of the harsh nature around him.

Captain Mikkelsen uses the diary and map found beside the body of one of the members of the expedition to navigate his way around. Early into the journey, a minor accident, due to a mistake on the part of Iver, leads to the death of Iver’s lead dog, Bjørn, towards whom he had developed significant attachment by now.

Against The Ice: Why was the Danish Expedition important?

One day, Iversen asks Captain Mikkelsen about his reasons behind going on such dangerous expeditions alone. The captain affirming the importance of the work they are doing informs him about the unproven American claim of a channel existing in the top part of Greenland which is said to separate a certain section of Greenland from the rest of the country. Thus, allowing the Americans to claim this tract of land called Peary Land. If they proved there is no channel and the whole of Greenland is one single mass of land, it would be the greatest national service.

In the night, Captain Mikkelsen sees Iversen looking at a photograph of a group of women he found on the ship. Dreaded by the loneliness, Iversen talks to them and has already given most of them nicknames. Captain Mikkelsen also points towards one woman from the group and names her, Naja.

By the 84th day, Iversen starts wondering if there’s a point by which they will accept defeat and return to the ship. Captain Mikkelsen wards off his anxieties and reaffirms to him that they will return to the ship by August.

Against The Ice: Beacon of Hope

Soon after that, they find the cairn (a kind of alert beacon built using stones such that it’s noticeable from a distance) built by the lost members. There, they find a map and notes left by Lieutenant Mylius-Erichsen, leader of the Denmark expedition, disapproving the American claims and clarifying that the Peary channel does not exist. After feasting and celebrating briefly, they set out for the return journey.

Against The Ice: The Return

One day, they are attacked by a polar bear who kills a couple of the dogs. Iversen manages to kill the bear and rescue Captain Mikkelsen.

With 200 miles remaining, Captain Ejnar decides to travel light and walk the rest of the way with minimal baggage. Short on time, they decide to take the dangerous but faster route. Before doing so, they build a cairn and leave the evidence there. Just in case they don’t survive, the cairn can be found by another party and the findings can be recovered.

In some time, they successfully reach the site where the ship’s located. They see the mast from distance, but upon reaching closer, they witness that the ship’s been dismantled to build huts. They realize that the crew has left, leaving them stranded.

Back on land, the crew is seen talking to the official from the government and telling them about the conditions under which they were forced to leave. The crew demands a rescue mission. Unfortunately, the minister decides against it because of the seemingly impossible chances of the two still surviving, especially taking into consideration the inexperience of Mikkelsen’s partner in the mission.

Against The Ice: Why do Captain Mikkelsen and Iversen go back?

Against The Ice: Why do Captain Mikkelsen and Iversen go back?

Disturbed by a dream in which a bear destroys the cairn he built, leading to the loss of the evidence, Captain Mikkelsen leads Iversen back to the cairn. The notes are found intact and they return to the cabin.

When they reach the cabin, they find that someone’s been there and a note’s been left by the search party. A brief confrontation follows between the two as Iversen had, without success, insisted on leaving a note behind hoping somebody to come in search but only to end up ignored by the captain. Captain Mikkelsen goes outside and in a quick burst of anger breaks the wooden sled as Iversen sees him breaking down for the first time since the journey’s start.

Back home, Mikkelsen’s close friend Jörgenson makes another failed attempt to convince the minister to send another rescue mission.

Against The Ice: Descend into Delusion

Having lost the track of time, Captain Mikkelsen realizes they are spending the second Christmas in the hut. It’s been nearly two years since they’ve been living there. While having supper, Iversen jokingly remarks that he will happily eat Captain Mikkelsen if his hands are removed before he dies as only hands differentiate humans from animals. Surprised at the remark, Captain Mikkelsen didn’t say much but he had already taken note of it, reflected by his eyes of suspicion.

The unending wait and the constant loneliness had clearly started showing their effects on Captain Mikkelsen by now. He starts having hallucinations of Naja, a girl from a photograph in possession of Iversen. Soon he grows delusional and suspicious of Iversen. He shares his suspicions about Iversen with her. He starts seeing Naja more as time passes by.

Against The Ice: Blurring Reality

Captain Mikkelsen develops a protrusion on his neck. Disgusted and pained by it, he asks Iversen to cut it off and Iversen does just exactly that. After waking from a long sleep post the quick operation, Captain Mikkelsen is welcomed by a smiling Iversen who jokingly implies that Naja came to his dream last night.

Captain Mikkelsen unable to differentiate the imagination from reality gets furious believing Naja has cheated him with Iversen. He vows to kill his friend and goes after him. The following tussle shows him pointing the gun towards Iversen.

Iversen tries to show him the photograph to make him realize that he’s imagining it all and Naja doesn’t exist for real. Amidst all this, Captain Mikkelsen sees Naja as well trying to convince him about the same. Captain Mikkelsen takes a shot at the image of Naja and the hallucination vanishes. Iversen takes the gun away.

Against The Ice Ending Explained

Immediately after, their hut is attacked by another polar bear. They are able to scare it away. After some time, while both of them were sleeping, Captain Mikkelsen again hears some rustling outside. He wakes Iversen up and Iversen picks up the gun. Assuming the bear to be outside the door, Captain Mikkelsen asks Iversen to shoot as soon as he opens the door. To their surprise, when Captain Mikkelsen opens the door, they see a couple of men along with Jörgenson standing outside the hut. After more than 2 years, they have finally been rescued.

Finally, back home with all the evidence collected by the Danish Expedition, Captain Mikkelsen and Iver Iversen are welcomed as national heroes. The government holds a function to felicitate both of them. Standing backstage, Captain Mikkelsen sees Naja again. Worrying about the traumatic hallucinations returning and not believing his eyes, he asks Iversen whether he can see the woman too.

Iversen replies in affirmation. Slowly walking, she comes close and hugs Mikkelsen. He introduces Iversen to the lady. To the surprise of Iversen, the lady introduces herself back as Naja Holm. The two heroes take the stage welcomed by the applause of their country people.

The Movie Culture Synopsis

What really happened?

Iversen had thought that Naja is merely a figment of the imagination of Captain Mikkelsen. Just like himself, he possibly thought that the captain too picked a woman from the photograph and named her Naja.

Captain Mikkelsen had also told Iversen in one of the many conversations they had that he had nobody waiting for him back home. When Iversen finally meets Naja, he realizes that the woman is not merely a stranger and contrary to what he was led to believe, she had a deeper connection with Captain Mikkelsen.

The epilogue informs us that Captain Mikkelsen and Naja Holm married one year later. The brave captain had known the woman before the expedition. It’s possible the photograph, found by Iversen, belonged to Captain Mikkelsen and he chose consciously to leave the photograph behind.

Unknowingly, the always curious Iverson brought the photograph with him to the mission. After all, Captain Mikkelsen believed in travelling light and it’s better to move around in the cold open vastness of the Arctic without the baggage of warm emotions.