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Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising (2010)

July. 16,2010
| Adventure Fantasy Drama Action

Scandinavia, 1,000 AD. For years, One Eye, a mute warrior of supernatural strength, has been held prisoner by the Norse chieftain Barde. Aided by Are, a boy slave, One Eye slays his captor and together he and Are escape, beginning a journey into the heart of darkness. On their flight, One Eye and Are board a Viking vessel, but the ship is soon engulfed by an endless fog that clears only as the crew sights an unknown land. As the new world reveals its secrets and the Vikings confront their terrible and bloody fate, One Eye discovers his true self.


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Valhalla Rising is one of my favorite films. That said, it definitely isn't for everyone. You have to be in a certain mood to enjoy and appreciate it. Anyone who goes into it expecting classical Hollywood cinema storytelling, or your typical action film, will be disappointed. This is not that by any stretch of the imagination. Personally, I think it is a beautiful work of art. It is mystical, mysterious, intriguing, challenging, and thought-provoking. You may love it, hate it, or simply be confused by it. It is unique. Yet, I have watched it several times and have enjoyed it each time. There is something about it that I find mesmerizing. It is written and directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. You might be familiar with his style if you have seen the film Drive. Mads Mikkelson is one of my favorite actors, and believe me, pulling off a wonderful acting performance while never saying a word is harder than you might think. Yet, I found his character utterly captivating. On one hand there is a vicious violent realism to the film, but it is mixed in with religion, history, and mysticism. There is a certain minimalism to the film, long quiet shots, and yet there is depth, color, and symbolic meaning as well. I appreciated the somber tone, the dark lighting, contrasted with the eventual lush beauty yet bubbling fear and violence behind the new world the explorers encounter later in the film. Spoilers from here on:On one level, the film is about a one-eyed slave who battles in fights to the death for the amusement and gambling purposes for his Norse owners, his quest for freedom, his travels with a young boy, who becomes somewhat of a friend, communicator/translator, and eventually someone whom One-Eye seeks to protect in their travels together with their new-found freedom. Who are they? Where are they from? Where do they want to go? Who do they want to be? Do they even know? Either way, clearly this is a violent brutal world. All this man has known or understands about this world is violence. It is all he expects, and he is prepared to participate if necessary. I found this film to be both a religious allegory, and a statement about humans in an era of the Crusades. Several worlds, cultures, and religions collide in this human drama. We have the Vikings and their Norse religion, the crusading Christians, and eventually the Natives of what appears to be the Americas. The Viking world is under attack and becoming converted by the emerging Christian world, which threatens to supplant it. One-eye and his young friend are recruited by Christians on a quest to conquer the Holy Land, and to convert heathens. The one-eyed main character has premonitions of the future, and is unbeatable in battle. This appears to be an allusion to the Norse god Odin. The Christians aren't so sure about him, and at first want to kill him, but decide that they are more interested in bringing him along with them, given his reputation for fighting prowess. He might be of service. One-eye encounters different kinds of Christians. Some genuinely want to teach the true meaning of Christianity. One-eye is informed that Christianity is a religion of love, forgiveness, and belief in the soul. Yet, several members of the group clearly want to force conversion on others through violence. Ultimately, several of the Christians are no different than the Norsemen in this world - violent conquerors, and at times ignorant, narrow-minded, and irrational in their beliefs. Christianity was the mere façade several used as a basis for conquest and personal gain. Others are blind in their total genuine faith, but often misguided, at times to their detriment. When the travelers go off course and wind up in what appears to be the Americas, the Christians encounter a new culture - the Native Americans, whom the leader of the group intends to convert. But the natives are not too thrilled with these visitors' presence, and more violence ensues. Huge spoiler alert:Ultimately, One-Eye, despite his tremendous fighting prowess, does not put up a fight against the Natives, and sacrifices himself voluntarily, seemingly as a way of protecting the boy from angering or incurring further wrath from the natives, and appeasing them. I saw this as the culmination and intersection of the worlds he had encountered - the Norse and the Christian. He is a great warrior who has foreseen his death, but he also embraces it, decides not to fight and kill when he could have done so, and like Jesus, voluntarily allows himself to be killed as a sacrifice. In doing so, he has justified his entry into heaven, if not Valhalla.

Reg Repas

Between the pace and the "noise" its like having a screw slowly turned into your skull. I hope the director will be merciful and never attempt this again.


In due time, this will be acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of the 21st century. One of the few movies where cinematic storytelling and art gracefully and shockingly blend and, yet, the product manages to remain entertaining (as well as profound). Yet, you have to know life in order to truly appreciate this film. Not apt for the last man.

Andrew Wakely

There are many varied interpretations of the film, the most common thread connecting them is the very obvious parallels between the character One-Eye, and Odin from Norse mythology. I, however, believe the film is about violence. That is to say, I don't think it's a violent movie (which it is) or that it's an action movie with some violent scenes (which it has), I mean to say that the movie itself is about violence. More specifically, humanity's violent nature. The main character, called "One-Eye," is a nameless, voiceless creature of pure brutality who comes from an obviously violent past, and is being held (ostensibly) against his will for the sole purpose of committing violence, before he is able to utilize violence to escape his captors and seek violent revenge. Almost immediately afterwards, he stumbles upon a group of Christians who have clearly just committed an act of hideous violence, and invite him to go and do violence with them-- in the name of God-- in the Crusades. They all board a ship, bound for the Holy Land, which quickly becomes the scene of violence after becoming lost an impenetrable fog. Eventually, the fog lifts and they find themselves not in the arid Holy Land but in a mysterious taiga-- seemingly somewhere in the Americas, where even the natural beauty of the landscape seems to belie the aura of menace that surrounds it. Despair, desperation, and even insanity sets in and the Crusaders begin to turn on each other, all the while being stalked by unseen forces from the forest around them. Everyone in the film meets a gruesome end (save for The Boy who, being left alone, can be assumed to have died of starvation or exposure).It is my belief that One-Eye represents the violence inherent in nature, especially human nature. He exists as a silent, nameless presence who seems to haunt the other characters as everything collapses around them. This belief is strengthened by one scene in particular (around the 1:18 mark) where one of the characters begins to question One-Eye on why he has done this; why he has dragged them into such a terrible fate, as if to imply he felt remorseful of his current predicament, brought about by his own violent nature. But, being the embodiment of said violent human nature, One-Eye says nothing, only stands in silent judgment. The man quickly ceases his questioning and wanders off into the distance, most likely to meet a violent end. And when it's time for even One-Eye himself to die, he appears to suddenly surrender all will to fight and allows himself to be killed, perhaps symbolic of his understanding without question the inevitability of death and the unending cycle of violence that was not just the reality for primitives or crusaders or vikings, but is an inescapable part of existence. A fascinatingly slow burn, the movie is unique in that it is savagely violent while still being basically an art film, with very heavy influence on cinematography and symbolism. Dark, brutal, artful, eerie atmospheric and poetic, Don't pass up an opportunity to see this one.