Forced to fight for sport, a nameless, one-eyed man attains his freedom with blood after he’s sold to another pagan clan. Accompanied by the young boy that was tasked with giving the warrior food, the pair set out on an excursion that lands them on a boat, surrounded by Christians heading to Jerusalem to defend The Holy Land. Where they actually end up though is far from holy, it could be hell itself.
Valhalla Rising is a beautiful film, it’s visually one of the most striking I’ve seen this year. Every single frame, every angle, every close-up, it’s like looking at a gorgeous oil painting. I found it nearly impossible to look away from the film as the frenetic first quarter slowly uncoils like a lumbering snake of madness and silence to reveal far more beneath the surface than just another macho “Viking” film. Comparing it to films such as Jodorowsky’s El Topo, Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy and the Lone Wolf & Baby Cart series would be fair as it shares similarities to many of these amazing films. Hell, while it may be nothing more than a creative flair on the part of Winding Refn and Mikkelsen and a generous interpretation on my end, I was left wondering if the character of One-Eye was somehow, in some small way, inspired by Christina Lindberg’s “One Eye” from Bo Arne Vibenius’s Thriller – A Cruel Picture. A cult cinema geek can dream, right?
If a metaphysical melange of Norse Paganism, Christianity, stomach-churning violence, rape, disorienting visuals and psychic abilities sound like a good time to you, you probably could use a night out of the house. I have to recommend this though, Valhalla Rising (just like Bronson before it) is a must-see/must-own Nicolas Winding Refn film and it has been one of the few cinematic highlights for me in 2010. I’d have to consider myself a fan of this man’s work so I’d recommend pretty much anything he does but having seen, more like experienced, Valhalla Rising…it’s just amazing.If you’ve seen Winding Refn’s Pusher Trilogy and Bronson, you know better than to expect the “same old, same old.”
It’s not heavy on the dialog (One-Eye is mute), there are perhaps only a few dozen lines delivered throughout the runtime, but what little is said is highly effective. You’ll get no information on Mads Mikkelsen’s One-Eye either so don’t bother yourself with any of that, this Pagan Savior and Norse Messiah has no past to speak of, no origins to complicate his actions.
Not all films are meant to hoot and holler through, some require both thought and patience, this is one of those films. Don’t go into this expecting an action/adventure film with big budget battles and adrenaline-pumping one-liners because you’ll be tragically disappointed after the first three chapters (it’s comprised of six altogether). Contrary to the artwork being used to market the UK DVD/BRD release of this film, Valhalla Rising is not 300, you’ll get no CG airbrushing or t-shirt-of-the-week quotes here.