Valhalla Rising, Where the One-Eyed Man Is King. Or Something.


Valhalla Rising
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn
IFC Films
Opens July 16, IFC Center

After the increasingly black comic violence of his Pusher trilogy and Bronson, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn—who apparently never got over A Clockwork Orange—goes left-field with Valhalla Rising, a movie as maddeningly ponderous and self-important as its black-metal title. As with Robert Zemeckis's recent Beowulf, Refn is inexplicably fixated on the conflict between virtuous pagans and hypocritical, self-respect-destroying Christians during the Viking era; specifically, mute warrior One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) versus all kinds of Christian scum. This is full-on portentous allegory, with One-Eye ironically ending up martyred as an alternate pagan Christ, while hypocritical Christians proselytize, then get picked off by unseen hillside savages. There's a vague Lars von Trier–ish feeling hanging over the whole movie, not just in the unflinching yet weirdly comic gore (and red-tinted dream sequences that are sub-Kingdom), but in the ridiculously weighty chapter titles ("Chapter V: Hell," "Chapter VI: The Sacrifice"). Frequently dull and stupidly obvious, you nonetheless have to applaud the misguided ambition of Refn's career turn. If nothing else, as the metal guitars get louder and louder, the synergy between Viking imagery and the pagan-obsessed metal freaks it spawned has never been clearer.

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The 'Voice' was wrong about A Clockwork Orange when it came out and it's mildly off-beam here. Slow and ponderous perhaps, but bags of atmosphere and a great lead performance. 

The 'message' is not that all Christians are scum (pagans early on are seen acting in an equally barbaric fashion) but that humans are generally scum.

Those who act with kindness or self-sacrifice do out of humanity, not as a result of which god(s) they follow. It is a historical fact that many Christians fought in the 'holy war' for glory, land and wealth. In this and numerous other wars, the noble cloak of religion was merely an excuse. I think scum is a rather fitting word for those people, and the movie does an okay job of highlighting this

I admit the pagan Christ thing is a bit eye-rollingly on-the-nose, but knowing the director it's probably intended to be a bit confrontational and also to get under peoples' skin, as it seems to have done here.

 Not fantastic, but an underrated movie, well worth a look for fans of the Refn and cinematic mood pieces.


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