Saturday, August 3, 2013

Instant Action: Valhalla Rising (2009)

Vikings, what gives, huh?

Written By: Roy Jacobsen & Nicolas Winding Refn
Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn

There are a myriad of ways to read Valhalla Rising. Usually I would go on and on about the many interpretations of Valhalla Rising and why I feel said interpretations make the film stronger. I'm not going to do that this time. Rather, I'm going to quickly give you my take on the film. One Eye is the Christian god, the young boy is Jesus, and the land they visit is the hell that North America has become thanks to religious zealotry. Where the film veers from the traditional Christian myth is that in Valhalla Rising god takes on the role of his son, and in doing so attempts to spare his son from the pain of death. However, One Eye's actions lead to the same result, and this ties into the repetitious nature of the film. People are people, and it matters not whether god, Jesus, or some other religious figure takes action to steer people on a different path. People are doomed to repeat their mistakes, and are doomed to a hellish existence because of the unchanging nature of life over the generations. Maybe I'm loony in my interpretation of Valhalla Rising, but it's a film that lends itself to many interpretations and as I always say, there is no wrong when it comes to the interpretation of cinema.

That's not all the arthouse side of me has to say about Valhalla Rising. A film like Drive showed me how impressive Nicolas Winding Refn can be as a filmmaker. Bronson further informed my opinion of his artistic merits as a filmmaker. Valhalla Rising plants a stake in the ground and says that Herr Refn is here to stay as a valuable artistic filmmaker of this generation. The entirety of Valhalla Rising is intense, atmospheric, and haunting. This is accomplished through many factors, not the least of which is the gorgeous filmmaking of Herr Refn. Morten Søborg's cinematography is beautiful to behold, and it aids the film at every turn. There's never a dull moment in Valhalla Rising, and it is by no means a fast paced film. It is Herr Refn who takes the many fantastic elements of Valhalla Rising and melds them into a cohesive whole. Valhalla Rising isn't interesting in making narrative sense, but as a film it makes perfect sense.

My writing has been a bit scattershot to this point. That's what happens when one tries to express their opinions about a film like Valhalla Rising. I was mesmerized while watching Herr Refn's film, and the brief moments of brutality brought me out of my trance. Similar to the aforementioned Drive and Bronson, Valhalla Rising isn't action from stem to stern. The action in Valhalla Rising is used as a form of punctuation. The action is well done in Valhalla Rising, but it's not the focal point of the film. It doesn't need to be either, because the little action that does take place is savage enough to remain with the viewer during every second of the films run time. The pace of Valhalla Rising is laconic, and brooding, thus the action is used to bring the viewer back to attention. Let me be specific, I never found Valhalla Rising to be dull, but the action scenes infuse the film with just the right jolt of energy every time the film needs said energy.

Thanks to his role in Hannibal, most of the Western world now has Mads Mikkelsen on their radar. Long before he was an enigmatic serial killer, he was the star of any number of Danish films. Valhalla Rising is a film that shows Herr Mikkelsen at his brooding best. There's such a thing as screen presence, and in Valhalla Rising Herr Mikkelsen has it in spades. When he is on screen all of the attention is on him, and he accomplishes this without ever saying a single word. One Eye catches the attention of the viewer and he refuses to let the viewer escape his grasp. With his dominant presence, Mads Mikkelsen bull rushes the audience and savagely drags them through the special kind of hell that is Valhalla Rising.

Nicolas Winding Refn's version of a Viking tale isn't going to be for everyone. It's abstract, highly interpretive, and favors atmosphere and screen presence over a standard plot. Most of all Valhalla Rising shows Herr Refn as a filmmaker unwilling to compromise his vision. Valhalla Rising is intense, brutally savage, and acidly atmospheric. I was drawn into this world, and engaged by the minimalist filmmaking. Valhalla Rising is a heady film, and beyond any real genre label. Valhalla Rising is a one of a kind venture, and that's always something worth seeing, and in this case worth praising.



Bill Thompson

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