Valhalla Rising

Okay so the other day I was asked what it was about this I actually liked.

Now thats a tricky question, so join me inside…

Okay, so I actually have no idea what it is I like about that film, so here’s some ill formed thoughts on the matter.

It’s hard to pin down, while there are lengthy bouts of silence and stillness punctuated by all kinds of violence and weirdness I think I like it because its a lengthy depiction of men under pressure, of people facing up to the sharp edge of the application of their ideas and faith in the face of grim situations and what they do about it.

Some (the leader of the Christian Vikings) keep their faith strong, some like his son and second in command reflect about how everything interacts with their family. Some like One Eye and The Boy simply wish to return home, they have no ideas about imposing themselves on those around them, they simply exist.

In the end One Eye sacrifices himself so that The Boy can return home, which is interesting, the idea of who is One Eye? Is he some sort of supernatural being? Is he just a bitter old fighter who’s had a legend of bullshit grow up around him?

How does he know that the Boy will be saved by his sacrifice? There’s frequent suggestions that others can “hear” him talking even though he’s mute. The Boy and also later one of the vikings who goes mad can hear him, so perhaps the natives (who are also silent) can as well? or is the idea that he truely never talks and again its about the interaction of beliefs and the environment? That people project onto One Eye what they want to hear? The boy and his desire to return home, the natives want him to die to keep their land free, the mad-man projects that he’s taken them all to hell to kill them.

Interesting material.

In the end its much like Donnie Darko, I watch it and I get something intangible from it, a different thing each time, less ideas from the film and more ideas from the atmosphere that watching it generates.

And that about wraps that up, by which I mean it leaves a lot of questions :)

5 thoughts on “Valhalla Rising

  1. bodybag_pilgrim

    VR, I think, is a mood piece more than it’s anything else. It’s not really a narrative, and shouldn’t be judged as one; it should be judged on how well it inspires emotion, and I think it’s wonderful at that,

    1. petemonster

      My initial reaction to VR was “Holy crap, that was like Apocalypse Now with Vikings”.

      I stand by the comparison; both are stories about journeys into darkness, and both concern themselves heavily with the effect of the journey, not the purpose of its completion. In a sense, the goal is something unreachable, or even impossible. Whilst Willard does kill Kurtz in AN, he does so by succumbing to everything that Kurtz embodies. If we define the mission by the expectations those smartly uniformed generals had, sitting around their table eating roast beef, it was a failure; Kurtz may be dead, but his death has done nothing to stop the spread of his ideology. Willard himself is now a carrier.

      In the same way, VR chronicles a doomed journey, a Quixotic quest that can never succeed, but in it’s progress reveals something of its participants. That’s perhaps why it feels so unlike a narrative; from the very beginning it undercuts the procedural drive of the protagonists by implying that they cannot succeed.

      1. almighty_weasel

        I’ll confess, I was the person whose question inspired this post, and I asked it because I didn’t like Valhalla Rising at all. In fact, for only the second time in my life, I wanted the time I’d spent watching the film back. I’ll agree with Tom that the film is not a narrative, but I didn’t get much out of it as a mood piece – mostly what it inspired in me was a combination of boredom and bafflement. Mostly that was due to the characters. I was waiting for plot and characterisation to happen, and I might have been able to live without the former, but the lack of the latter spoiled it for me. One-Eye, the film’s nominal lead, the one character we follow from beginning to end, didn’t seem to have reasons for anything he did. He acted, but he was never explored, never explained. His origins were a mystery and there seemed to be something faintly mystical about him, but… what did that have to do with anything? Why did he get on that boat? Why did the boat end up in wherever the hell it ended up, was that anything to do with him, and if it was, why did he want to go back again? And here’s the thing, all of these questions were implied, but then left hanging limply, without resolution, without even hints at resolution. It wasn’t a mystery, we had no hints, no clues. It was just… there. As for the other vikings, they had no names, no histories, no motivations beyond the most basic, no character development beyond ‘a bad thing happened, and now we’re either insane or just regretting it’, there was no reason for me to care what happened to them or why it was happening.

        I suppose if I was in a strange and altered frame of mind where I was inclined to look at every strange, wordless, unexplained shot in the film and assign DEEP AND INTENSE SIGNIFICANCE to it, I might have plucked some random meaning out of my subconscious, but if I wanted that experience I’d stare at some rorschach blots under strobe lighting until my brain turned to cheese.

        1. bodybag_pilgrim

          I am deeply, deeply glad to own and have watched The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.

          As a movie, it’s a piece of crap.

          I loathed watching Fritz Lang’s iconic classic, Metropolis. I’m still glad to have watched it, and wouldn’t want to get rid of it.

          I like Valhalla Rising because it’s a hyperviolent Rorschach blot. The director insists, for instance, that there is nothing theological about it.

          I find that fact fascinating – the fact, that is, that the director insists this. I’m not sure it can be said to have theological weight either way, except as a vessel for firing neurons in its viewer.

          1. almighty_weasel

            See, I liked The Assassination Of etc. far more than VR, and… well, I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s a strange piece, and it’s as much about the evolution of a story as it is about the story itself, but I found the performances to have a certain emotional truth behind them, the writing was pretty clear, and the structure of the story easily explicable. It showed you events happening, then it showed you how those events were mythologised, even as they were happening.

            VR, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be about anything. The performances were good, but provided no context, no indication as to what was supposed to be happening. The story was pretty much non-existent. The Assassination etc. was a film that was definitely about something. VR is not definitely about something. I can respond to The Assassination because it has a subject, and I can interpret the strangeness of the film in the light of that subject. In VR, I would literally be making stuff up if I said that I saw any meaning in any of it. There is nothing really there. It’s a series of pictures in assorted shades of brown, green and red, with nothing to indicate even a potential meaning. The film doesn’t present itself as a complete experience that the viewer can enjoy and respond to – the viewer has to make up the significance of everything, and that’s not something that I respond well to. Personally, like.

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