Valhalla Rising

Based solely on the name and the movie poster, I decided to give Valhalla Rising a try and watch  the movie. An English language film which is made by Danes with support from the UK, this movie wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. It’s not for everyone and is almost art movie like, with lots of silence from the actors. The dialogue scenes are almost interludes to the movie and the violence is brutal. Boy is the violence brutal. Starring Mads Mikkelsen & directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the film is shot entirely in remote areas of Scotland and takes place in the year 1000 AD.

Mikkelsen is a Norse warrior – mysterious, brooding & mute – in the misty highands of Denmark and given the name One-eye because, well, he has only one eye. He is held captive by a chieftain and forced to fight other warriors. He escapes his bonds using an arrowhead found at the bottom of a pond, which he was led to by a dream, and kills everyone sparring only a young boy who used to tend to him by bringing him food & water.  He also spares a warrior who he lets escape, and places the head of the chieftain on a stake.  One-eye and the boy make their way through the land until they reach a small settlement of Crusaders, Christians ready to embark on a crusade to Jerusalem. The General, leader of the group, asks One-eye to join them saying that going to Jerusalem and protect the land would absolved the warrior of his sins.

On a boat the party heads to Jerusalem but when the wind dies down for several days, they are left with no food and no drinking water. Broken & tired, a thick fog prevents them from seeing anything more than a few feet in front of them, making them loose their bearings. Thinking that the boy cursed their voyage one of the crusaders tried to kill the boy, only to be killed by One-eye. The warrior takes a drink of water and finds that they have reached an estuary. As the fog lifts, the find themselves no longer at sea and can sigh dry land. However they soon realize that the vast forests of lakes & mountains is not the holy land they sought – instead they are in the yet unknown North American continent. The crew sets out to explore the area, finding no animals to hunt, and no food to eat. Nearly starved, the crew continues until coming across some aboriginal burial sites. One of the crew, Haulk, leaves the others and wanders off.

Realizing that they are not anywhere near Jerusalem, the group heads out in the boat but are attacked by arrows shot by unseen enemies. The group cannot leave and believe themselves to be in hell. One more crusader is killed by a single arrow. They come back to land and make a broth that causes them to hallucinate. One-eye’s dreams, in hues of red, intensify and he he wades to a small island to construct a cairn. One-Eye and the group are confronted by Hauk who emerges from the forest naked, his skin covered in mud in which runes are drawn. Hauk says he can hear One-Eye’s thoughts, and translates that the warrior is saying they are in Hell. The crew becomes divided, with some trying to attack One-Eye in fear, and he kills them. Then the unseen enemies shoot more arrows attacking and killing the crusaders one by one. One-Eye and The Boy successfully reach the coastline and are soon met by a large tribe of Native warriors. One-Eye regards them from a distance before dropping his weapons and walking towards them. They beat him to death. Only the boy remains, standing near the coastline and left alive by the native warriors. The last scene is of the boy standing with a strange aura around him, dreaming of One-eye staring back at him.

What does this movie symbolize? For me it symbolizes a personal journey, attainment of final peace (for One-eye), the death of the Norse way of life and the beginings of a a new religion on a new world and the first attempts of the old race to quell that new religion. This movie is not for everyone; I found the shortage of dialogues, doom laden metallic noises during shots of the  landscape and One-eyes dream staring sequences a bit too much to handle for a lazy afternoon setting. Nonetheless, I feel that everyone should try to give this film a go. 6 outta 10!

2 thoughts on “Valhalla Rising

  1. I saw this last night after read the first few paragraphs of this review and the last sentence (the only way to read of a review of a movie you haven’t seen, if you ask me).

    I liked it, I think more than you did. This is possibly because I love studying Norse culture. Some of the things I noticed while watching…

    The king of the Norse Gods is Odin, who has only one eye. Sure, Odin is a white-bearded old man, but I’ll latch onto it as significant anyway.I thought they did a great job of representing the weapons of the different people: axes for the Norse, swords for the Christians, and stone headed arrows and clubs for the Native Americans.

    I’m a little bewildered by the fact that they got lost… it’s true that those parts of the world are often foggy for days or weeks on end, with low or no sky visibility, but the Vikings had means of navigation, even though they lacked magnetic compasses. Most also hugged the coasts in order to orient themselves and remain close to resources. It’s unheard of that someone would set out for the Middle East from Scandinavia, go adrift, and end up in the Americas.

    Still, a great movie to watch late at night, huddled in a cold, wintry home, under a thick blanket, and in the dark.

  2. Cool – I didn’t remember the Odin reference (just watched Thor a few days ago as well). I used to be fascinated with Scandinavian culture during my early teens and wanted to go to Sweden or Norway. And as for getting lost and ending up in America – hey remember; Christoper Columbus was looking for India when he landed in N.America on an island somewhere (I forget my history lessons) and he was so desperate that he convinced his group that it was India and the natives were Indians.
    Meanwhile my ancestors were on the shores waiting for him!! “Where the hell is Chris? Bugger must have taken a wrong turn!”

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