Allrightythen Nicolas Winding Refn, what in the world do we have here? The short answer is ‘I don’t have a clue’ but since I was shuttled to the local art theater to see Mr. Refn’s new film ‘Valhalla Rising’ I have to provide a long answer. Hell, I gotta couple of college degrees largely on the strength of inventing interpretations of things I didn’t understand so we’re going to dust off those long forgotten skills and attempt to apply them towards forming an opinion about this very odd movie.
‘Valhalla Rising’ takes place a thousand years ago where we meet our principle character, a mute man who will eventually be called ‘One Eye’ (Mads Mikkelson). Who One Eye was is open to interpretation, just like almost everything else in this movie, but who he is at this point and time is a prisoner of a set of Viking types who keep him in a cage, feed him slop and only let him out of the cage to perform in this era’s version of UFC octagon matches. Getting into the mud pit with this cat is equal to suicide because he will gouge you, bludgeon you, rip you open and eviscerate you with the purpose of these fights, apparently, to provide some coins for his captors.
Considering how lethal this man is his captors make it a point not to get anywhere near him and instead have a young boy (Maarten Stevenson) chain him and feed him, theory being, I guess, that One Eye won’t hurt a child.
One day while moving my man to his next destination he breaks free. It was ugly, but it was over quickly for most of those suckers. Now One Eye and his boy side kick travel across the countryside and eventually stumble upon another group of Vikings, these Vikings calling themselves Christians, who have apparently just eradicated some individuals who weren’t interested in accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They might’ve taken out One Eye and the boy, but one of these Vikings, aware of One Eye’s rep, advises his leader (Gordon Brown) that they might want to pass that. Good move.
Some stuff happens which puts these Vikings, along with One Eye and the boy, on a ship in search of a new Jerusalem in which to spread Christianity. Riches and land awaits. In theory. In truth starvation, thirst and death is what they get on this long, mist
filled journey. Eventually after a few deaths and a murder they hit land. Things only get worse. Riches are not awaiting them, only more despair and natives who have no desire to be converted. Perhaps it’s the fault of One Eye, thought by some of his Viking colleagues to be Satan reborn, who is the cause of this despair. Perhaps challenging One Eye and bringing an end to him will result in the ultimate salvation our wayward Christians. Good luck with that.
On the surface ‘Valhalla Rising’ may appear to be a film without much point to it or direction in where it’s going. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of plot and while the motivation of our Vikings is pretty clear, that being the spread of Christianity come hook or crook, our main character appears to be completely devoid of any motivation or goal. Refn divides his film into six separate chapters, and the truth of the matter is that these chapters are the clearest and most concise parts of his film as they are very descriptive, in just a few words, in what we are about to visualize. ‘Few words’ being one the keys here considering there is very little dialog in this film and what dialog there is doesn’t go a long way into demystifying this films murky, plodding purpose.
One would think a film with very little dialog, long stretches of silence where characters stare off into space looking off into nothing, and one filled with seemingly disconnected dream sequences would be boring or difficult to watch but this is not the case with ‘Valhalla Rising’ which is almost mesmerizing in it’s ability to keep the viewer engaged in its tale. For starters Refn shoots and frames a beautiful picture, Mads Mikkelson dominates the screen in a way that’s almost Eastwood-esque in the way he focuses your attention on everything that he does. Then there’s the violence. It’s never too far away where someone gets their head bashed in or beheaded or their intestines spilled or watching some poor slob skewered with arrows that come from nowhere. ‘Visceral’ is a word they like to use.
But what is ‘Valhalla Rising’ really trying to tell us? Clearly this represents the folly of Christianity, or at the very least a certain type of Christian. It’s not all that complex actually. The true Christ figure in this film is One Eye. Persecuted, misunderstood, born from unknown origins, with the fact that he just appears to these people being a clear representation of a virgin birth. Jesus was sent to us to bring us to The Lord. This is what the character of One Eye was doing by killing those who he decided were doing him or the boy harm. He was converting them in a way, sending them on a journey to be with The Lord. Contrarily these Vikings he is traveling with aren’t Christians, instead they are heretics, they are Pharaoh, heathens opposed to One Eye’s… teachings. When One-Eye makes his journey to higher ground, this translates easily to the Sermon on the Mount. The natives he eventually encounters are clearly Romans. Romans to whom One Eye makes the ultimate sacrifice so that they boy can live. I don’t believe a Jesus metaphor can get any clearer than that.
So there you go. ‘Valhalla Rising’ demystified. And all of this stellar interpretation was free of charge.