Valhalla Rising 2009, Denmark. Written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Ewan Stewart, Gary Lewis, Alexander Morton. When I watch a movie, there are two of me sitting in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs, stuff that explodes, monsters, axe-maniacs, and the occasional light saber, rarely stopping to deeply consider what he’s seeing. We call the kind of movies that guy likes POPCORN MOVIES. But there’s another fellow who tends to tag along with him, usually uninvited. This guy might like some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of SERIOUS CINEMA. He tends to prefer foreign movies and has an eye for cinematography, thematic motifs, and character development. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life. Here’s what happens after watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 film VALHALLA RISING. CINEMA: When I describe this film as being about a mute warrior in medieval Europe, held prisoner by a clan of pagan Vikings and forced to fight other prisoners to death, you might expect it to feature The Rock or Arnold Schwarzenegger – POPCORN: <in Arnold voice> “Crush your enemies! See them driven before you! Hear the lamentation of their women!” CINEMA: – but you probably wouldn’t expect it to star Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish actor most notable in this country as the villain of CASINO ROYALE and, more recently, the television incarnation of Hannibal Lector. POPCORN: Dude, Hannibal was ripped in this movie. CINEMA: Mikkelsen did extensive combat training for this role, true – and he undoubtedly spent some time in the gym – but I wouldn’t really say that he was ripped. POPCORN: For a psychiatrist he was. CINEMA: You do realize that this is fiction, right? POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: Anyway . . . when not tethered to a wooden post, where he engages in hand-to-hand combat with the captured warriors of other tribes, this mysterious one-eyed fighter is chained and locked in a cage. The only person who shows him any kindness is the young boy who brings him food each day. POPCORN: Hannibal kicks some serious Viking ass. CINEMA: Yes, he does. Within the first fifteen minutes, he crushes someone’s skull with a rock, slashes a throat open with an arrowhead, shows someone their own insides before they die – POPCORN: And lops off that dude’s head. CINEMA: – and lops off that dude’s head – POPCORN: And takes a chunk outta that other dude’s neck. CINEMA: – and takes a chunk out of someone else’s neck, before calming down for a while. With the young boy in tow, he escapes his captors and quickly encounters a ragged band of Crusaders. Drenched in blood, with the bodies of more dead pagans scattered about him, the crusading General approaches the man and the boy. His sword drawn, he asks if they are Christian. The boy looks at the bodies, then at the cross on their flag, and wisely responds – POPCORN: Hell yeah, dude. CINEMA: Hell yeah, dude . . . indeed. When the General realizes that the stranger cannot (or will not) speak, he asks the boy for the man’s name. The boy looks up at his ferocious companion, with the grisly scar where his left eye should be, and says “One-Eye.” When the General asks the boy where One-Eye came from, the boy responds – POPCORN: He came from Hell. CINEMA: He came from Hell. But the boy does not indicate if he means the Christian hell, or hel, the underworld of Norse mythology. He does add that it lies somewhere on the other side of the ocean. POPCORN: It’s Jersey, dude. CINEMA: There is a pervasive theme of religious violence throughout VALHALLA RISING. The prologue states that, at the dawn of time, there was man and nature. Then men bearing crosses drove the heathens to the fringes of the earth. POPCORN: Jersey, dude, and Snooki is the devil. CINEMA: The General has grandiose ambitions of building a new Jerusalem, somewhere across the sea. He asks One-Eye to join them. They could use a good fighter in the cause, since religion obviously means bloodshed. The Crusaders’ priest comes forward to explain that, live or die, One-Eye can free himself of his inner pain and cleanse his soul by committing to the Crusades. POPCORN: So they get on the boat – CINEMA: They get on the boat, which One-Eye had seen himself doing in a prophetic dream. This is his actual motivation, rather than any personal allegiance to the Crusaders’ cause. He has these visions throughout the film, typically cast in the blood red of a dream, and he follows them unquestioningly. It was a dream that revealed to him where to find the arrowhead, which set him free from the pagans, and a dream that told him to get on the boat with the Christians. POPCORN: – and it was a dream that revealed to me that I was getting bored. CINEMA: I did notice that you were snoring. POPCORN: We went from all this crazy gut-ripping, head-lopping fun to, like, a bunch of dudes in a boat. Yeah, I nodded off for a couple minutes. CINEMA: There are definitely a few tonal shifts in this film, the first of which occurs when the Crusaders set off for the Holy Land. A thick fog descends, enshrouding the boat for many weeks. The men are starving and their supply of fresh water begins to dwindle. They start to believe that the voyage is cursed, looking at the boy as if he is the reason. POPCORN: Did I mention that I had a dream? CINEMA: Um . . . yes, you did. So they are adrift in an endless black void, whereupon some of them begin to question their faith. Predictably, violence soon erupts – POPCORN: Yeah, I was all ripped. But more like Conan than Hannibal. I had this big-ass sword and I was fightin’ these warrior dudes from downtown – CINEMA: – as one of the crew members tries to kill the boy – POPCORN: – the warrior dudes were all wearing suits. I think they were from Corporate. CINEMA: – and One-Eye has to pick up the axe to defend him. POPCORN: So I picked up a sword to start lopping the corporate dudes’ heads off, but these Hammer girls were hanging on my legs – CINEMA: One-Eye is actually the first person in the boat to realize that they are no longer at sea. They have drifted all this distance to an inlet upon a very different body of water. As the unearthly fog begins to dissipate, the remaining crew sees their holy land for the first time – POPCORN: One of them was the Frankenstein chick that Grand Moff Tarkin had on the slab. CINEMA: Do you mean Peter Cushing in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN? POPCORN: Yeah, that’s the one. I don’t know who the other one was, but she was wearing something really, really low-cut. And I was really, really tall, you know, so . . . CINEMA: The remaining crew sees their holy land for the first time, but it’s obvious that they’ve drifted off course. Although they don’t know it, the Vikings have landed in the New World. They have set shore upon what will one day come to be known as America, but the native people aren’t accepting any refugees at this time. POPCORN: But just as I was about to, you know, start populating the earth, these corporate dudes turned into, like, terrorists. CINEMA: I said, the native people aren’t accepting any refugees at this time. You see what I did there? Because of the increasing controversy about allowing refugees into the country, while nearly everyone here is a refugee from somewhere. POPCORN: Yeah, dude. You’re one witty son-of-a-bitch. CINEMA: Not accepting any refugees at this time . . . heh. POPCORN: But why did they turn into terrorists? CINEMA: The refugees? POPCORN: No, man, the corporate warrior dudes. CINEMA: It’s your messed-up mind, how am I supposed to know? Maybe they were always terrorists. Maybe, in some kind of liberal, conspiracy-theory way (that I was unaware your brain could work), you are drawing parallels between physical terrorist attacks on the world by crazed fundamentalists and economic terrorist attacks on America by filthy rich CEOs. POPCORN: Maybe I shouldn’t eat that many burritos before I go to sleep. CINEMA: That’s more likely. POPCORN: But why Isis? CINEMA: Why did ISIS attack Paris? POPCORN: No, dude. Why did they name themselves after that shitty TV show? CINEMA: ISIS? POPCORN: Yeah, dude. The one where the chick has that fancy necklace and the short skirt. She was kinda like Wonder Woman, but she could make animals do shit for her. CINEMA: She was an archaeologist . . . and she found an amulet that would transform her into a superhero to fight evil. She became Andrea Thomas, seemingly normal school teacher, but she was also an Egyptian goddess when presented with crises that no mere mortal could resolve. POPCORN: “Dedicated foe of evil, defender of the weak, champion of truth and justice!” CINEMA: Ah, yes. It usually followed the SHAZAM! show on Saturday mornings, after all the cartoons were done. It ran from approximately 1975 through 1976. Yes, I remember it now. I seem to recall that it was rather cheesy. POPCORN: Like a pizza, dude. CINEMA: Well, I doubt many of these terrorists have seen that show. Their name is more commonly known to have appropriated the name of an Egyptian goddess. POPCORN: Which one? CINEMA: Seriously? The one that was called . . . Isis. She was the goddess of health, marriage, and wisdom. Devotion to her later spread to the Roman Empire, and she is still widely worshipped by pagans in diverse religious contexts, especially the modern Goddess movement. POPCORN: For a bunch of dudes that wanna keep chicks under wraps, they might have picked a better one to name themselves after. CINEMA: I don’t think that’s exactly . . . look, can we get back to Hannibal? I mean, One-Eye. POPCORN: Go ahead, dude. It ain’t me stopping you. CINEMA: Good lord . . . Mostly filmed high up in the mountains of Scotland, this is a haunting visual feast to behold. Chock full of arthouse violence, it looks and feels like AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD meets APOCALYPSE NOW – POPCORN: They’re probably all pissed off because there’s no women anywhere. CINEMA: ISIS? POPCORN: No, all those Viking dudes. The pagan dudes too. Check it out, man, not one single chick in that whole movie. CINEMA: Really? POPCORN: Maybe a couple slave girls when they meet the boat people. CINEMA: Huh. The Christians. POPCORN: Yup. CINEMA: Well, there is a definite correlation here between religious dominance and acts of violence. When One-Eye and the boy find the Crusaders, they are surrounded by hacked-off limbs, smoldering bodies . . . and, apparently, slave girls. Crosses are painted on flags with the blood of their slain enemies. They are led by a war-hungry general, claiming to be a righteous man, but who really dreams of glory in the killing of those who believe differently than he does. POPCORN: That sounds familiar. CINEMA: Yeah. POPCORN: All-over-the-place familiar. CINEMA: Yeah. POPCORN: Damn, dude. CINEMA: There are no . . . uh, easy answers in VALHALLA RISING. The pagans are violent. The Christians are violent. Even the native people in the New World . . . are violent. POPCORN: Everyone’s a douche-bag. CINEMA: Violent douche-bags. POPCORN: Sure, but this One-Eye dude does it the best. This is a pretty kick-ass movie if you take a nap in the middle of it. CINEMA: I was spellbound from beginning to end. POPCORN: Yeah, but that’s cuz you like to think about shit. CINEMA: I’m not sure it’s always a good thing. POPCORN: Whatever, dude. You wanna watch ISIS? CINEMA: On the news? POPCORN: No, man. The goddess chick with the short skirt. CINEMA: Actually . . . yes, I do. POPCORN: She might even be able to kick Hannibal’s ass. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.