Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Roy Jacobsen, Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Gordon Brown, Andrew Flanagan, Gary Lewis, Gary McCormack, Alexander Morton, Jamie Sives
The world of Vikings isn't necessarily new to film, but it is one that is often misrepresented. Say "Viking" and the listener will immediately conjure up images of giant men in armor and bull-horned helmets. The image won't go much further than that as the old Nordic raiders aren't typically given any depth or real character beyond smashing things with clubs and axes. This is what makes a film such as Valhalla Rising such an unexpected joy; a profoundly artistic story of the travels of a somber mute warrior named One-Eye, caught at the brink of the Christian crusades.
As the story opens, One-Eye is a slave. His uses are limited due to his complete savagery and uncanny knack for killing, but he's kept around, in chains, to battle criminals to the death for the amusement and gambling of the local chieftains. His current owner is in need of some extra cash, and reluctantly sells the man to another merchant, who takes One-Eye as he leaves on a trek across the grasslands.
One-Eye is crafty, however, and he stumbles upon an old arrowhead which he pockets and later uses to cut through his bonds. He takes the group by surprise, brutally slays a number of them, and finds his freedom. While he was a captive, a young boy named Are had taken care of him, tending to his food and other needs; this young boy is the only one he leaves alive in the small traveling band. Are, separated from his clan and realizing his plight, decides to travel with One-Eye. Rather quickly, it is established they have formed a silent bond of friendship, likely born of the boy's kindness to him while he was a slave.
The two stumble upon a small group of Christian soldiers, who are on a bloody march to join up with the Crusades. Quickly recognizing the skill of One-Eye, the leader invites the two to accompany them to conquer the holy land. One-Eye wordlessly agrees, and they undergo a long and grueling boat ride and become hopelessly lost in a deep mist. They strike land; however, it is not the holy land that they arrive at, but some other far, far place, and one that is occupied by hostile aboriginal Indians. The men, realizing that this place is not their intended destination, decide they may have just stumbled upon hell itself, and for them, they may be right.
Valhalla Rising is mostly set within the realm of reality. This isn't a story of old Vikings battling dragons or frost giants. However, it is not without its supernatural element within the character of One-Eye. Besides being a competent warrior, the man seems to be something of a seer. Juxtaposed within the stark scenes of a Nordic landscape are several blood red montages of visions, and ones that unerringly come true. These visions are calmly interpreted by One-Eye, and shared with no one else. It's never established why the man is mute - there is almost the sense that he doesn't see the point of speaking to anyone else.
If there is any single word that best describes Valhalla Rising, it is 'stark'. There is a potent, almost tangible, feeling of doom emanating from the storyline from beginning to end. All of the characters seem to know that they are headed for nasty ends, yet they seem to accept this with a strange stoicism that shows the sign of the times. In One-Eye this is accented by his strange seer-like ability to see the future; the man knows the blood that is coming, whether it be his or others, and he accepts each battle with the calm of a twig navigating the currents of a river.
While an incredibly artistic film, Valhalla Rising is not without the savagery and brutality that one would expect in a story about Vikings. Death was a far more common thing in that culture than we soft modern types are used to, and One-Eye is incredibly proficient at dealing it out. It's something beyond just combative skill; the man enacts violent savageries upon his enemies with such cold and gory execution that it borders upon psychosis, at least by 'civilized' standards. It takes a special kind of man to kill someone by gutting them while they are still alive and leaving them screaming while their intestines steam at their feet; yet One-Eye does this with a cold casual air that obviously comes from many practiced years of experience.
The style of the entire venture is something incredible, beautiful, and not at all expected. It's as if Werner Herzog shot a Viking movie, with Jodorowsky consulting on the script. It's surreal, profound, and visually striking. The cinematography is hauntingly beautiful with deep loving shots that contrast the horror of the men's situation with the sheer beauty of the land. The music is deep and primal, a surging throbbing that shudders between hysteria and beauty, and it perfectly conveys the strangeness of the film. I have to stress that this isn't a movie for everyone - some may be put off by the strange pacing and its admittedly highbrow artistic style - but, for those the film is for, it is perfection. Cinephiles will adore this film. Valhalla Rising is an extremely ambitious piece of artwork; it nearly transcends its medium to touch the ghostly whiskers of something higher, holier, and mightier than mere men. This is a movie for Vikings, made by Vikings, if there ever was one at all. Odin, be he watching, would be pleased. Go see this movie.
"Grim" is right there with "stark" in describing this movie! It's not only bad-ass; it's smart and visually stunning to look at.
Not all are agreeing with me though. I've gone through some of the "top critics" at Rotten Tomatoes and I'm surprised at some of the silly things people are saying.
Rex Reed dismisses it as "the kind of time-honored Hollywood Viking movie Kirk Douglas used to do in his sleep, which means lots of inhuman, bone-crunching violence and no plot," which is just completely and utterly ridiculous. Saying Valhalla Rising has no plot is akin to saying pink isn't a warm color.
Another negative review describes it as some sort of battle between paganism and Christianity, which it is absolutely not. This guy just completely misunderstood the entire movie. One-Eye kills anyone who tries to kill him - be they Christian, Pagan, or otherwise - and it has zilch to do with him battling Christianity.
It amazes me some of these people have paid jobs yet can so completely misunderstand a single movie.
This sounds like a great movie so of course it's only playing in New York and God knows when it'll hit DVD. I wish I could run the movie business they are so ass-backwards.
This is not a dream... not a dream. We are using your brain's electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness, but this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation.