TOA/V: Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising (2009)
Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn
Mad Mikkelson, Gary Lewis, Maarten Stevenson, et. al.

BBC Two showed this the other night and we DVR’d it. Medieval-ish and Mads: I was sold! Where did I know that director’s name from? Hmmm, oh yeah, Drive. A movie people loved and I didn’t. I am going to have to use this film in my masculinity and medieval film book because it is like the über example of the trope. Women are erased from the medieval world apart from one brief moment where naked women huddle together after their village is destroyed by the Christian vikings and their men are reduced to a pile of burnt skeletons.

And then they’re gone, never to be seen again.

Never mind there’s no village to be seen (no homes, no agriculture, no livestock), this isn’t a film interested in people. It’s a film about images. Unfortunately, that seems to be a lot of films now. Here’s a bunch of images, you make the story — BYON. I resent that kind of film. I don’t mind crazy narratives — I’m a huge Argento fan after all, it doesn’t have to actually be coherent — but this kind of humourless, self-important wank irritates me.

Is the one-eyed warrior played by a mute Mads supposed to be Odin? He has visions–mostly digitally reddened scenes of battle to come. Don’t know, it doesn’t matter. Why is he kept in a cage and made to fight other slaves? Don’t know, it doesn’t matter. He escapes, spares the boy, but goes for a bit of the ultra-violence on his captors in a gruesomely specific manner.

The episodic parts all have pretentious titles. The scenes between the ultra-violence are generally men sitting, looking grim. I began to suspect that the director just didn’t want to move the camera. The sparse dialogue, which added little in the way of story, made Kaurismäki films look positively garrulous! So we had men sitting around looking grim in various places — well framed, I’ll give him that.

The places were confusing because it’s all filmed in Scotland so yes, gorgeous Highlands. But at the start it seemed to be supposedly Denmark or at least Scandinavia, then despite heading for the Holy Lands they landed to the ‘New World’ (I found it hilarious that IMDB commenters don’t seem to know that the vikings did indeed visit North America, this is not controversial). However, when the ‘Indians’ appear to attack, they’re um…Tibetan actors in red face. Perhaps they were filming another movie in Scotland at the time and were willing to take up roles.

It’s got that weird sort of confused modern masculinity as a theme: violence makes us men! But we’re vaguely Christian, so we believe in the power of sacrifice. But violence looks cool when the blood spurts out and the guts go ewww! We want to use the legacy of the vikings, but we don’t want to actually have to do any research. I thought this was going to be fun, but clearly Refn is a very serious filmmaker and I am just a frivolous girl.

See the round up of other overlooked films over at Todd’s blog.


  1. S.L. Johnson says:

    I tried watching this twice – and gave up after about 20 minutes both times. Boring, no story, boring.

    1. katelaity says:

      Yeah, it was a bit of a trial, I must say. I am glad I can use it for my work as it offers a good example of the extreme sort, but — yeesh!

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