Valhalla Rising

Xan Brooks has a decent summary of what to expect. He didn't think there was much behind it all, but I wonder... Refn strikes me as a bit of a dick, but he definitely wants to say something with this film, and it's worth thinking about what that might be.

One-Eye has one eye, and is mute. He gets asked several questions as the film goes on, some rather existential, to which he doesn't reply. All of this suggests to me that he's a symbol for the God that doesn't answer prayers. The one eye is itself symbolic -- restricted vision, a humanity that's missing. No love and all war. It also might connote the eye-for-an-eye principle. One-Eye has been brutalized by his pagan captors, who impassively play games and make cash with people's lives, and he spends the first part of the film getting his revenge. That done, he drifts off, not knowing what else the world has to offer.

The rest of the film seems to deal with religion and its corruption. One-Eye joins a band of crusaders that promise to cleanse his soul. On the journey to Jerusalem (v. Rime of the Ancient Mariner) they go crazy and try to kill One-Eye's companion, a boy (Colridge's albatross), but One-Eye stops them. Upon arrival, the Viking chief becomes a fanatic (and dies) , the priest and the chief's son go to be with their deceased loved ones (and die) and the rest become restless when there's no treasure to be found (and get killed by One-Eye).

The final part of the film is about a sacrifice: One-Eye drops his axe, and offers his life in order to save that of his companion, the boy in search of home. The final scene is of the boy looking out into the sea, and imagining One-Eye looking back, free from the blood-lust that consumed his existence. Whether this is One-Eye rising on the third day is left to the viewer to decide.

This redemptive parting shot makes me think the film isn't just about natural man's innate capacity for violence -- Cormac McCarthy doing Vikings. Rather, "Wrath" is contrasted with "Sacrifice", and there's stuff in between about how lofty ideals end up doing funny things to your head.

One of the strangest medieval slaughter-fest movies you are ever likely to see. What I like about it is its obvious allegiance to mythic and genre archetypes -- stripping characters and dialogue to essentials, and focusing on building mood. Obv. you might have problems with the portrayal of the 'savages', cast in the red-skinned demons-in-hell role. Refn also says some stupid things about gender in the interview linked above, so I suspect he's prone to taking up insensitive or uncomfortable positions in his films... which makes me want to see Drive all the more -- will Refn deal w/ chivalry w/o being patronizing and reactionary?

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