Operation Napoleon (2023), directed by Óskar Thór Axelsson, is a complex film to unpack. Watching this film is like going on a hike – we constantly anticipate the discovery of a big, awe-inspiring climax no matter how difficult the journey gets. It is based on Arnaldur Indridason’s book, Operation Napoleon, which is already a mass-market potboiler of thrills and international conspiracies.
The film, I believe, is meant to serve an audience already familiar with Indridason’s book because it comes with the need to willingly suspend one’s disbelief as it heads atop the largest glacier in Iceland to stage most of its discoveries and actions. It can feel dry, lifeless, and rushed, but if you hold on till the end, you will be intrigued by the discovery. We will try to take you through the plot and the ending of Operation Napoleon (2023) below. Beware, SPOILERS AHEAD!
Operation Napoleon (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
The film begins by giving us glimpses of an airplane crash in Vatnajökull, Iceland 1945. It is snowing very hard, and only one person – a shepherd in a stable full of sheep – is the witness of this crash. Next, it is the present-day Washington DC, USA. William Carr (played by Iain Glen) is seen playing with his grandchildren when a phone call informs him that some of the recently resurfaced materials atop an Icelandic glacier bear an 80 percent probability of what they have been looking for. Carr asks the caller to initiate Phase One.
Next, we are in Reykjavik, Iceland. Our protagonist, Kristin (played by Vivian Didriksen Ólafsdóttir), is late for an office meeting. She appears to be a lawyer at a law firm. However, the moment she steps into the meeting, we learn that she is very good at her job as she draws out the fallacy of the new scheme being proposed in the meeting. Afterward, she receives a call from her brother, Elias, who informs her that he and two of his friends have set out on a small ‘research trip’ to the Vatnajökull glacier for a few days.
When Kristin asks him why she wasn’t invited for this trip, Elias tells her that she is always busy with her work and cannot make it anyway. We then see Elias and his friends speeding across the glacier only to be obstructed by the parts of a crashed Nazi airplane. They dig an entrance to the aircraft, and Elias climbs inside, filming all along as he finds dead people as relics.
An American aircraft lands soon after, and Julie Ratoff (played by Adesuwa Oni) sets out of this aircraft to murder two of Elias’ friends with a sharp, pointed pencil and take Elias into captivity. They discover that Elias has already sent the pictures and footage of the Nazi airplane to his sister, Kristin, and they employ Simon (played by Wotan Wilke Mohring) to kill her.
Back in Reykjavik, Kristin is pondering over the news of the protests against American research to measure the effect of global warming on the Icelandic glaciers in her apartment after work. She also receives a panic-stricken call from Elias, but she doesn’t take him seriously until she comes across all the media files she has been sent. Later that night, a coworker she was up against earlier in the day turns up at her doorstep with a bottle of wine. Soon after, Simon shows up as part of a religious charity, enters the apartment, and kills Kristin’s colleague. She is warned against going to the police, or they will kill her brother as she starts to flee.
On the other hand, Carr receives an update that the initial search of the wreck does not reveal any trace of ‘Napoleon’ and that the aircraft is believed to have had six passengers, but only five bodies were found buried in the show. They conjecture about a certain Colonel Brand, the one in charge of Napoleon, to have probably gotten away. Julie requests more technology and manpower to continue the operation as Carr orders to widen the search area but is met with disappointment.
Still fleeing, Julie first seeks shelter at Rosa’s house, a colleague from work. Together, they try to look up more information about the Nazi mission to Iceland, landing at a certain British professor at the Univerity of Iceland, Steve Rush (played by Jack Fox), who specializes in this history. However, Rosa quickly finds out that there is a search across town for the 34-year-old Kristin, who has already set out in search of Rush.
We learn that Rush is an old fling of Kristin’s, whom she probably never got back to after a couple of dates. They meet at the Irish Pub, his regular haunt, where he tells her that she is actually concerned about an ‘echo of an echo’ Nazi mission, Operation Napoleon – a flight that set out from Berlin and disappeared somewhere, possessing a secret that has the power to change history. But before they can continue this conversation, Simon starts to chase them, firing and killing bystanders.
Kristin and Steve’s adventure begins. They first get rid of Steve’s phone and head to the University, where Steve teaches, to learn more about the objects in the photos Elias sent Kristin. Meanwhile, Carr orders his men to chase after both Kristin and Steve. The duo makes it to the American embassy the following morning for more information on the possible list of people who may have some idea about Operation Napoleon.
They evade Carr and his men and head towards the address of Leo Stiller, the squadron leader from the last operation to the glacier in 1988, who is still registered to be living in Iceland. At Leo’s, they meet his wife, who informs them that Leo is long dead and provides them with a basement full of findings and information from their journey to the glacier. This information reveals to Steve and Kristin that they found a pistol and a military pin near a small stream on the glacier, indicating that someone may have survived the plane crash.
While they are exchanging information, Carr’s men arrive at the house. Steve and Kristin (hit by a bullet in her abdominal region) escape while Leo’s wife meets a fatal end. On the other hand, Elias tries to flee his captivity but ends up being caught and tortured by Julie. As Steve and Rush race to the finishing line with Carr and his men behind them, the question keeps us on our toes – What is Operation Napoleon, and why is it so important in historical knowledge of World War II?
Who is William Carr?
Leo Stiller’s wife informs Kristin and Steve about General Timothy Carr, one of the men in Patton’s third army. He was part of the 21st British group posted outside Berlin during World War II and is revealed to be the person behind all four major searches on the Icelandic glacier. William Carr is Timothy Carr’s son and an ex-special forces person, currently employed within the CIA in an unspecified position. He is also the person responsible for carrying out the current search on the glacier and the main antagonist in the movie.
Is Operation Napoleon (2023) based on a real event?
The story of the film Operation Napoleon (2023) is strictly fictional. It talks about a secret deal between power-hungry Americans and Nazis to get Hitler out of Berlin before he died in 1945. The deal was supposed to give away the location of a treasure train, the Walbrzych train, to the Americans in exchange for Hitler’s safe relocation to a remote island in Argentina. However, the deal had tanked. There is no real historical evidence to prove the existence of this deal. It has been concocted like a conspiracy theory purely for the thrill of enjoyment.
Operation Napoleon (2023) Movie Ending Explained:
What Happens to Elias in the End?
Wounded and on the verge of unconsciousness, Kristin is being helped by Rush in their efforts to evade Carr’s men. Rush reaches out to Johannes, Kristin’s forlorn father, who left Kristin and Elias very young. Kristen is evidently seen to hold a grudge against him.
Carr heads toward the area where the aircraft wreck was found and asks his men to keep investigating the found papers for a trace of ‘Napoleon.’ He first visits Einar, the son of the shepherd we saw at the beginning of the film. Carr and Einar seem to know each other from their last meeting in 1988, the last time the search mission in that area was on, and exchange some niceties.
Carr asks whether he has found some items from the glacier or if anyone has come asking for anything from him. But Einar’s preparation to defend himself with a pocket knife shows his animosity towards Carr. The latter arrives at the glacier to find a seriously injured Elias and orders his men to keep him alive till his sister is found. Carr also asks Julie to increase the search area, suggesting they are running out of time.
Kristin wakes up in Johannes’ boat (because it is safer and faster to reach the glacier by boat), recovering from her bullet wound. She is initially mad at Rush for involving Johannes in this fiasco, especially because he has always been an absent father to them, but soon shares a moment of laughter with him at the expense of Rush, dissipating the tension between them. Steve and Kristin safely arrive at Einar’s house, asking him to help them at the suggestion of Leo’s wife, Sarah.
He provides them with the right winterwear and the necessary snow gear to brave the glacial ice but keeps away from it himself, telling them that his father has made him promise never to look for the plane or anything from it ever. Einar is superstitious regarding this airplane, revealing that his father (who died two days later in a coma after he last visited the search party for this airplane) believed that it was only supposed to bring death. However, Einar also quickly reveals that he suspects Carr to be the man behind his father’s death.
Kristin heads out by herself to the point in the glacier where the remains of the last survivor of Operation Napoleon are likely to have been buried in ice. At the same time, Steve asks Einar for help with a vehicle to travel along the glacier. Kristin makes it to the disappearing cave and successfully finds a suitcase full of confidential papers buried in the snow. She takes pictures of them and alerts Carr’s men in her direction.
She surrenders to them, telling them that she is equipped with valuable information relating to Operation Napoleon and the location of the papers, which she will not share unless her brother is released. The negotiation is tough, but Carr agrees to let Elias go, who boards a snowmobile and heads southwards to call for help. Before Carr can get around to questioning Kristin, Steve arrives at the spot and is about to be killed by Julie when a shower of bullets kills Julie and Carr’s men. It is Einar who has finally arrived at their rescue.
Carr tries to flee with Julie in his aircraft, but the plane crashes into ice in a final showdown. Einar kills William Carr, and Steve saves Kristin. Elias also arrives at the spot with help. A month after the incident, the media is still buzzing about the murder and demands an investigation into why Americans were conducting such a large-scale operation on Iceland’s glaciers. A text message reveals the relationship between the siblings and their father has improved. She rides to a secluded and hidden location in the woods, far away from the city, to meet Steve and Einar, where Steve reveals what Operation Napoleon is all about.
What is Operation Napoleon?
The document Kristin found in the briefcase was dated April 14, 1945, 16 days before Hitler’s death on April 30, 1945. Steve reveals that a group of influential Americans who weren’t unsympathetic towards Hitler had decided to sneak Hitler out of Berlin, along with his wife and their dog, to a remote island off Patagonia in Argentina. The passengers on the plane were primarily high-ranking Nazis and Americans en route to Newfoundland to secretly finalize the deal with these U.S. representatives. The documents for this deal were contained in the briefcase, which never made it to its right destination because the flight crashed in Iceland.
Steve also suggests that the Americans possibly wanted to save Hitler because the deal would hand over to the Americans the map (called Napoleon) to the location of the fabled Walbrzych train, one containing all the precious items stolen from Jews by the Nazis. This train has been hidden somewhere in the mountains of Europe, and the location is unavailable to the general public to date. Upon verification, Timothy Carr (William Carr’s father) was to set up an operation to ghost Hitler out of Berlin all the way to Argentina via a submarine. It goes without saying that this is a fictional figment of World War II history.
The film ends with Steve, Kristin, and Einar onboard a plane to Poland in search of the treasure train. By this time, Kristin and Steve are seen to love. Aboard alongside them is also Simon, Carr’s man, who was following Kristin from the start. The end of the film reeks of another adventure and promises the trio’s return in perhaps a sequel to this film.