ce399 | research archive (esoterica)

Valhalla Rising (FT 6/5/10)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 11/06/2010

Conjured necromantically from the medieval dawn, spook-raised from the Scandinavian subconscious, Valhalla Rising is a film you must see to barely believe. God bless Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn – if that deity is applicable in a story of Vikings, fledgling crusaders and closing-reel American Indians – for giving us a surreal epic that measures its heft against Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God . Herzog wins, though only because Aguirre is a masterpiece for all time. Valhalla (at least here in Britain) is to date a seven-day cultists’ delight, almost lost after late-joining last week’s superabundance of releases.

Refn made Pusher , Bronson and other meat-and-bone modern thrillers before searching his cold locker for this tale of a one-eyed Viking warrior (Mads Mikkelsen, formerly a Bond villain, late of Clash of the Titans ). Across land, water and psychedelic mindscapes, Mikkelsen leads a troop of primitive knights, plying their pidgin-English dialogue with Scottish accents, to a promised Holy Land that proves as weird, as hallucinatory as Herzog’s El Dorado. On the way there are fights, spites (beheading, disembowellings) and curdling twilights. Some scenes, seeming to be dreams, are shot in blood-red. Others are as pale as monochrome. Still others are lyrical and primitive like canvases from the American river painters.

Every critic I have read, even enthusiasts, misses what is surely the film’s point. Mikkelsen’s “One-eye”, so named and addressed, is either Odin or his earthly avatar. Here is the uni-ocular Norse god (Wagnerians, think of Wotan) leading the crypto-Christians by the nose to the edge of a lunatic revelation, a fire-baptism of faith, before himself meeting a god’s twilight on the cusp of a new dawn. The half-blind lead the half-blind: it is the story of religious evolution through the ages.

Don’t try to unscramble all this from your cinema seat. Let the images blow and bend you like winds, helped by electronic music from the depths of earth and time. Meanwhile, marvel at how director Refn has manufactured the whole movie on a budget, we don’t doubt, of about two euros. Valhalla Rising must be the first avant-garde film set in the early middle ages. Its geography is vague, its map co-ordinates mazy. It is mad Norse by Norse-west. But at the close you feel startlingly certain that you have been in the realm of wizardry.

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