Film Review – Valhalla Rising
*Competent production values
*Good, even beautiful (though not unique) photography
*By no means a masterwork of technical filmmaking, but is probably passable enough to get a solid A in a film production course
*Historically inaccurate (takes place in 1000 AD; Crusades didn’t start until the close of that century)
*Racially…confused? Maybe? If you go by Netflix’s summary, it’s a terribly racist film.
*Confusing and contradictory plot
*Lacking any conflict, resulting from the structure
I honestly don’t know how to give you a serious review for Valhalla Rising (2009), but I’ll try. Truth is, I don’t even know how to give a sarcastic review. You see, this movie is sincere yet pretentious. Well acted yet facetious. Gruesome yet dull. It is its own polar opposite, alpha and omega. I will never watch it again. So here it goes.
The film is a Danish production from director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose previous work includes the Pusher series and the much-underrated and hilarious Bronson, and whose hobbies include making people with a stutter pronounce his name at gunpoint, allegedly. Refn’s world in Valhalla Rising is centered on the life of a nameless, mute slave dubbed One-Eye, portrayed by fellow Dane Mads Mikkelsen. He lives one of those lives of QUIET desperation—forced to fight other tattooed slaves to death in mud while his owners bet on him. One-Eye can also see the future in his dreams.
One-Eye violently, and single-handedly, overthrows those keeping him in bondage, and teams up with a rag-tag group of Scottish would-be Crusaders seeking safe passage to the Holy Land. There’s an interesting moment that Refn gives special emphasis to, when One-Eye meets these Crusaders. They have burned the bodies of heathen Nordic men and have a group of women, presumably from a nearby heathen town, crouched and tied up together, naked. It’s a stark, interesting image—the Crusaders praying to a giant cross next to piles of burned bones and humiliated people who don’t understand why this vengeance has been wrought so totally upon them. Then, there’s a cut, and One-Eye eats with the Crusaders and the women are never brought up again. That bothered me throughout the rest of the viewing.
Our mute slave hero is also joined by a little boy whose father was one of One-Eye’s original captors. I think. Refn’s team never really specifies. There’s just a bunch of grown men doing the Medieval equivalent of gambling on underground bare-knuckle boxing, and then a little boy is hanging out, giving the slaves tattoos and dispensing soup to everyone (which looks like it is a local specialty they call, lovingly, “piss n’ gristle”). Or, the boy is some kind of sex slave. I’m just saying, when your movie unabashedly features rape and disembowelment and horribly racist depictions of Asians dressed as Native Americans, you don’t seem like the kind of filmmaker who shies away from a terrible, oblique pedophilia subplot. Anyway. This little boy can read One-Eye’s thoughts, so, the warrior doesn’t kill or molest the boy (anymore?). And One-Eye, please remember, can see the future in his dreams.
The boy, by the way, is a doppelganger for the Feral Child in The Road Warrior. If I didn’t know better about what aging does to the human body, I’d go so far as to say they’re the same person. I’m just saying, no one has proved conclusively to me that they aren’t, despite several letters requesting clarification.
And this is where the story starts to sound like a bad joke. The Scottish crusaders convince One-Eye and the little boy to set sail with them for Jerusalem. Apparently, they think the people in charge of Jerusalem at this point in history have a few sandcastles, a baseball bat and signs that say “Danger: Guard Dog” on the outside of the city walls for defenses.