The film looks at the Icelandic musical duo of Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), a.k.a. Fire Saga, as they attempt to win the international song competition, Eurovision. In 60 years, Iceland has never won the competition, which is like the world's Super Bowl, so they need all the help they can get. This is why Sigrit turns to the elves for help.
As funny as this elfin plot point may seem to non-Icelanders, it's actually a sweet tribute to Huldufólk, the real Icelandic folklore about hidden people or elves with supernatural powers who peacefully co-exist with humans. This belief is very real for many who live in the Nordic island country. Fifty-four percent of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves, according to National Geographic in 2017. Sigrit would definitely fall under that category. Though, an Iceland Magazine piece from last year believes the answer to the question of whether elves exist is a more complicated one for Icelanders. Definitely where Lars falls in the whole elves debate.
Still, the country's belief in elves is no laughing matter. As local resident Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir told The Atlantic in 2013, “If this was just one crazy lady talking about invisible friends, it's really easy to laugh about that. But to have people through hundreds of years talking about the same things, it’s beyond one or two crazy ladies. It is part of the nation.”
In fact, The Atlantic reported that "references to the word alfar, or elf, first appeared in the Icelandic record in Viking-era poems that date back to around 1000 AD." Unlike the elves that assist Santa Claus, Iceland's elves are believed to look like humans who just happen to dress in the clothes of their centuries old ancestors. They are believed to live rather normal church-going lives not unlike modern Icelanders. (Those who want to know more about them can enroll in Elfschool.)
These elves can be as small as a few inches or as tall as nine feet, though most believe they are no bigger than a young child. Folklorists say that the elves are territorial, which is why Jacqueline Simpson, a professor of folklore, told The Atlantic, "treat them with respect, do not upset their dwelling places, or try to steal their cattle, and they’ll be perfectly ... quite neutral, quite harmless.”
Concerns over disturbing the habitat of the elves, who live among the rocks, is so great that the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration created a "five-page 'standard reply' for press inquiries about elves," according to The Atlantic.
In the film, Sigrit offers the elves gifts like mini-bottles of whiskey and homemade biscuits in hopes that they will help Fire Saga get into Eurovision. In real life, Icelanders have been known to appease angry elves by unearthing enchanted rocks or halting construction on mythological sites. That might seem extreme, but locals claim angry elves have been known to fight back against unwanted construction.
“There are many stories of machines breaking down and workers becoming ill when they interfere with elf rocks,” Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, a writer and folklorist, told The Guardian in 2015. “The elves are seen as friendly, beautiful creatures, but you have to respect them, or they will take their revenge.”