In cinema, there are a certain set of films that are notable for either being incredibly brutal or unbearably profane. These films include works like A Clockwork Orange, Salo: Or The 120 Days of Sodom and in recent years Antichrist. These films are often panned by critics and popular moviegoers alike for their depraved imagery and seemingly unwatchable nature, however, it is these set of films that often provide some of the most rewarding viewing experiences for those desiring a challenging cinematic experience. The previously mentioned films all exist as well-acted, well-shot and thoroughly written narratives and I am more than willing to add a film like Valhalla Rising to this list. It is a very brutal film and makes elaborate use of aftereffects blood in a way that makes contemporary action films look like a kid's movie. Yet amidst the violence and abrasive tone of the film, viewers are able to experience a visual treat in experimental narrative that is both your traditional mainstream action flick and a deep reflection on revenge as it relates to religious duty. The film is disturbingly inspiring to say the least.
The organically flowing narrative of Valhalla Rising focuses primarily on the aptly named One-Eye, a mute warrior with vicious strength who has been inexplicably captured by a local tribe for exploitation in some sort of warrior games. It is assumed that One-Eye will play pawn to his captors until he meets death in these battles, but due to his resourcefulness he is able to break free, rather violently, from his captors and eventually takes the tribes youngest boy under his wing. Upon doing so One-Eye and the boy meet up with a group of Christian Crusaders who are in search of the Promised Land. Believing One-Eye to have been resurrected from hell directly, the group agrees to take him and the boy along in their quest. During a voyage down a river, they experience an disturbingly long spell of fog that leads many of the crusaders to become unstable, leading to the murder of one man who attempted to attack the boy. Realizing first hand the strength of One-Eye, the crusaders give him leeway to act on his own freewill once they arrive on land. This newly discovered land is not the Promised Land the crusaders had hoped for and is instead infested with locals whose sole desires are to attack the new intruders. After a descent into a living hell, which includes suicide and sodomizing, the group is destroyed by the natives, leaving only One-Eye and the boy. In a moment of sacrifice, One-Eye offers himself to the natives to save the boy and is quickly massacred by the blunt weapons of the aggressive tribe. The film fades and leaves us with an image of One-Eye superimpose over an image of foggy nature, implying his godlike rule over the land, despite being disconnected from it physically.
The world of Valhalla Rising is wholly masculine and, with the exception of a group of what the viewer can assume to be sex slaves, shows no images of women. Given this set up it is no surprise that the film is full of illogical violence. Nicolas Windig Refn is arguably positing the notion that a world ruled by men for men can only be deadly. In fact, no amount of honor, religion or sportsmanship can assure safety, because under this set-up all three elements are tied with mortality. In fact, within this film the only form of power seems to come with age, because elderly males such as the village chief or the leader of the crusades have unquestioned power, while the boy is young and visually more effeminate, which results in him being tasked with dangerous work, most notably feeding One-Eye from the onset of the film. Even One-Eye, who seems to approach life in a far more thoughtful manner, cannot escape this brutal masculinity and literally succumbs to it in the films closing images as he is bludgeoned to death with a swarm of phallic weapons. This death is foreshadowed by him creating his own phallic statue as he commits a false suicide, implying his own death at the hands of male plays for power, which formulates itself in various forms throughout the film, ranging from violent sodomizing to brutal attacks. This world, as the film shows, is doomed for failure given the closing shots of silent nature and shadows of the men who ruled over it, implying that in the near future such brutal patriarchies will disappear and only be fleeting memories in the foggy distance. In doing so, the violent film Valhalla Rising becomes something far grander than an action film and transcends into a world of astute and well-executed social commentary.
Buy this movie if you are a fan of unusual cinema or are keen on special effects in films, it is a highlight in both respects. I would also suggest it to anyone who enjoys experimental narratives, because this is certainly from the realm of filmmaking. Copies are rather cheap and well-worth owning.