I am going straight to the point. “Valhalla Rising” is NOT a movie for everyone. If you’ve seen the trailer, forget about it. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s film barely has any dialogue (it almost resembles a silent film) and many would even say it even lacks a linear story. This film is an abstract experience, it is a film meant to be experienced by those used to a lot of ambiguity in filmmaking and for the esoteric few. It is a savage, brain-wringing tale about Vikings, and the Valhalla that eludes them because of a realm of the unknown. “Valhalla Rising” occurs in the metaphysical world of nightmarish visions with a lot of strong symbolism and art house sensibilities.
1000 A.D..A mysterious Norse warrior who would later be called One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) is held captive by a chieftain (Alexander Morton) and is forced to participate in bloody fights with other prisoners. One-Eye has the ability to foresee events in his dreams and may have contributed to his being held against his will. Sold by his captives for money to defend against Christians, One-Eye escapes while he is being moved by his new master, he takes a young boy (Maarten Stevenson) in his travels. Together the two come across a band of crusaders who are on their way to Jerusalem to fight a Holy War. One-Eye and the boy join the crusaders in their journey even as a mysterious mist envelopes their boat, once they emerge from the mist, they find a world that could’ve spawned the fury inside One-Eye. This world causes doubt and death as the crusaders question their faith and their mission, as One-Eye questions his own existence…
“Valhalla Rising” is not your usual Viking film, it is actually a film unlike most I’ve seen; and for this reason alone, I would have to commend the director and his co-writer Roy Jacobsen for their efforts. At first impression, one may look at the film as a gory, bloody action-fest as the first scene shows a lot of brutality, blood and entrails and senseless violence. Once Refn gets your attention with some stomach-churning then the film goes into the psychological approach. The film is rich with symbolism as One-Eye sees his visions and as the crusaders journey in their boat. Think of the first act as an expression of One-Eye’s development as a warrior and his cold exterior, then we get to see his thinking, his fears and even his heart as the film goes on. This is a cruel disposition indeed; and exactly what is One-Eye‘s purpose?
The film is also rich with the allegory of the themes of war, mortality, spirituality and despair. The film is indeed abstract in the way it rummages through its slow-paced narrative; bloodied swords are seen across a red backdrop much like crosses are, the mist or the brown fog embodies the futility of war and the wickedness of men. One may say that the film also brings forth the idea that man condemns things that he doesn’t understand; as Christians have massacred heathens and curse those who don’t share their faith, the Norsemen see Christians as cannibals since they eat the flesh of their God and drink His blood. This is a film built around 1000 A.D., with fanaticism and blind righteousness may run rampant. These are expositions of the fallible and arrogant nature of humanity; they seek something greater and yet, they seem to find something different. Why? Because of the way they go about them and the motivations behind their actions; and what is the end for this kind of action?
Keep in mind that this film is an experience and is intended to be a form of elusive cinema. It is cryptic and is a brain-wringer, it is a venture to the unknown, and it is perfectly normal to feel alienated. The film relies on the viewer’s ability to observe behavior, most of the characters are filthy, unkempt and they don’t seem to wipe off the blood in their faces after an encounter. Despite the brutality and violence, this film is not action-oriented and requires the utmost patience and attention from its viewer. The cinematography by Morton Soborg is bleak, depressing and beautiful. One’Eye’s visions are brought into chilling display to generate unease and confusion, while the landscape shots were visually lush and bright. The film does maintain a gloomy feel throughout, it moves at a pace that feels frigid and slow but I didn’t think the film was boring. There were times that the direction did dwindle a little too much, and while I understood its purpose as an expression of mood and angst, it felt stretched out and heavy at times.
“Valhalla Rising” is a film with ambition and this ambition can be evasive as it doesn’t exactly operate with a deliberate rhythm or pace. It is a study of humanity’s feral and visceral behaviors, it sparks because of the mood pieces built on its atmosphere and surroundings. Refn also wants the viewer to feel the passage of time, and the performance by Mikkelsen does command attention despite the film’s alienating nature. Aimed at esoteric stimulation, it is a film not easy to swallow, enjoy or comprehend, but it did sustain my interest. It is a journey to the subconscious, and Refn may have made this film only for the enjoyment of a very select few.
Is a movie director/writer whose specialty is look-at-me landscapes combined with a lot of the old ultra violence and a big helping of sodden philosophy an inflated artist, an egotist with financing or a 17-year-old who has just discovered Nietzsche? Valhalla Rising, a grandiose movie without a center and the pacing of a lame horse, could make a case for Nicolas Winding Refn being all three. Something like 1,000 years ago, One Eye (Mads Mikkelson), a mute warrior of … more
** out of **** "Valhalla Rising" had the potential to be very entertaining. It comes off as sort of entertaining, but not to an extent at all. In fact, one could even call it boring. There is visionary inspiration to be found in this film, but it's far too slow-paced and self-absorbed for my liking. I just can't seem to shake the feeling that "Valhalla Rising" doesn't give a damn about what I or anyone else thinks about it, and … more
While hallucinogenic in its style, "Valhalla Rising" felt too empty to me. It is no doubt more daring and ambitious than most films of its type (Viking movies, cinematic acid trips, etc), but that doesn't make it better, now does it?