VALHALLA RISING, 2009
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson and Alexander Morton
1000 AD, for years, One Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength, has been held prisoner by the Norse chieftain Barde. Aided by Are, a boy slave, One Eye slays his captor and together he and Are escape, beginning a journey into the heart of darkness. On their flight, One Eye and Are board a Viking vessel, but the ship is soon engulfed by an endless fog that clears only as the crew sights an unknown land. As the new world reveals its secrets and the Vikings confront their terrible and bloody fate, One Eye discovers his true self.
Valhalla Rising is violent stream of consciousness that is guaranteed to have you questioning what the hell you just watched. This is most likely a different experience from anything you’ve seen before and it’ll probably leave you attempting to solve the cinematic jigsaw puzzle that is Valhalla Rising.
The film stars a one eyed mute (Mads Mikkelsen) whom is a warrior slave to a tribe of Norsemen. He is pitted against other slaves for amusement and betting on him is money well spent. He’s a brutal and efficient killer that makes the audience, as well as his owners, question if he is actually human. Well, if One-eye is a brutal and efficient killing machine, how long do you think he’ll stay a captive slave?
After ruthlessly tearing apart (literally) his slave drivers, One-eye heads towards the neighboring village for more disemboweling revenge. He does spare a young boy named Are (Maarten Stevenson) whom ultimately accompanies him. Sparing him may be due to the fact that Are fed One-eye while he was still a slave, Are is just an innocent child, or One-eye is more compassionate than he looks. Anyway, when One-eye gets to the village he is surprised to see Christian crusaders have already ransacked the village. The crusaders ask One-eye and Are to join them on their crusade to take back Jerusalem. One-eye agrees and off they go on a tiny boat to cross an ocean.
So far this movie sounds pretty badass and simple, right? A grizzled mute and a boy fighting off a violent world? Slow down and get ready because this movie takes a sharp turn for insanity. The ocean gets covered in fog for an extended period of time and the group gradually loses their sanity. Right before they starve to death the fog clears and it looks like they accidentally sailed into a lake in Virginia, U.S.A. I’m not sure how they did that, but one thing is for sure. They are terrible sailors.
There they are attacked by an unseen tribe of locals (possibly Native Americans), kill each other, go crazy, pray, and go missing. One-eye quickly loses interest in the idea of a crusade and decides to take matters into his own hands. For not speaking throughout the entire film Mads Mikkelsen portrays a deep and complex character. One-eye is the definition of a stoic character for he never smiles, frowns, or seems to be concerned in anyway. That does not mean he’s emotionless. They’re subtle, but One-eye is a creature of feelings. Watch him spring into action when someone threatens Are. He truly cares for the boy. We also have to wonder if One-eye is human. His fighting prowess is unmatched and he seems to have the power of foresight. With the way this movie is presented, I wouldn’t be surprised if One-eye was supernatural.
Valhalla Rising is gorgeous. Its photography is wide and chilling and it makes the characters seem minuscule in comparison to their surroundings. It’s pacing is going to test you though. Minutes go by as men stare off into the distance and contemplate. There are scenes that seem to have little meaning while characters make irrational decisions. The score is melodic and eerie, and the editing is sporadic at some points and sparse in others. This film is cerebral. It feels more like a half remembered nightmare than a film. It’s a gritty tale that may be a grueling trial for some and an enlightening experience for others. I’m in the latter category, and I’m not even sure why. My heart gives it a 9/10 while my brain gives it a 5/10. If you’re looking for a mind bending acid trip with some amazing atmosphere and a gritty protagonist, watch Valhalla Rising. Also watch this movie if you hate dialog.
I personally believe that One-eye is the human embodiment of Odin. They are both one eyed warriors with god like might and this film is the transition between Norse Gods and Christianity. Odin comes to earth as One-eye to see what this whole Christianity thing is about. He himself is the last breath of the old Norse traditions. One-eye may not even be aware that he is the embodiment of a god, but he gradually fills his potential as the film goes. Then he sacrifices himself at the end of the film to save Are. Once One-eye dies, so does Valhalla and the rest of Norse Gods.
You can also make the case that One-eye is Odin’s failed messiah. Think of it as if no one listened to Jesus Christ. There probably is no straight forward answer to what this film means, but what is important is your opinion? What do you think?
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